Parents’ Beliefs vs. Their Children’s Health

“The spread of measles has called attention to parents who don’t vaccinate children because of religious beliefs. New York City is accommodating an Orthodox Jewish circumcision practice that can infect babies with herpes. Some states even let believers in faith healing deny life-saving medical care to their children.

Should parents’ religious beliefs allow them to refuse medical care for their children or avoid standard medical practices?”

A Discredited Vaccine Study’s Continuing Impact on Public Health

“Some parents feel certain that vaccines can lead to autism, if only because there have been instances when a child got a shot and then became autistic. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Making that connection between the two events, most health experts say, is as fallacious in the world of medicine as it is in the field of logic.”

Bioethicist: Experimental Ebola Treatment Endorsed, But Who Gets It?

How do we distribute scarce resources? What if the scarce resource is a life saving drug to treat ebola?

Below are three articles about these questions.

Additional questions to consider could include: Is it ethical to profit from developing and profiting from life saving medication? What if removing profit motive would remove the desire to create the medicine in the first place?

The Ethics of Vaccination

There was a recent outbreak of measles in the United States which raised some interesting questions. Before we get to those questions, an introduction to measles. We don’t often think of measles as a dangerous disease but it’s one of the most contagious human diseases. To compare measles to other diseases in the news, a person with ebola can be expected to transmit the disease to 1-2 other people while the disease is in its infectious period, according to immunologists. A person with measles can be expected to transmit the disease to 12-18 other people. The most recent ebola outbreak has killed between 8,000 and 9,000 people but prior to this outbreak, only 738 people had died of the disease since it was first discovered in 1976.  Worldwide measles kills 145,000 people. 

Much of the current outbreak has been blamed on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Either because of religious objections or because of fears of the safety of the vaccines or other reasons. Some people simply question the need for vaccines at all. Immunologists hope that 100% of people receive vaccines but hope for a minimum level of 92% to achieve “herd immunity” to prevent outbreaks of diseases for which there are vaccines. Immunologists argue that people choosing not to vaccinate their children makes outbreaks of these diseases more likely. Because diseases like measles are so infectious, the diseases not only affect those who have not been vaccinated but also a certain percentage of children who haven’t.

This situation creates an interesting set of ethical questions.

  • What takes precedent in a situation like this: a person’s freedom to make medical choices for themselves and their children or the health and well being of a larger population?
  • Is it unethical for you to forgo vaccination if the potential cost of your choice is paid by someone else?
  • Is it ethical to force someone to make health choices against their will if medical experts deem those choices necessary?
  • How do we determine medical truth? What if a doctor did research that contradicted the rest of the medical establishment? Whose truth do we go by?

Below are some links to some of these issues.

Vaccine Critics Turn Defensive Over Measles

Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes Worst Measles Epidemic In 20 Years

Why I won’t let unvaccinated people around my kids

The “Ethics” of Vaccination in Canada

Why Even Vaccinated People Can Catch Measles

Amid California measles outbreak, some doctors refuse to see children who haven’t been vaccinated

Studies Outside the U.S. Show Unvaccinated Children Healthier than Vaccinated Children 

Antivaccine hero Andrew Wakefield: Scientific fraud?

“Over the next decade, aided and abetted by useful idiots in the media, by British newspapers and other media that sensationalized the story, and the antivaccine movement, which hailed Wakefield as a hero, Wakefield managed to drive MMR vaccination rates in the U.K. below the level of herd immunity, from 93% to 75% (and as low as 50% in some parts of London). As a result Wakefield has been frequently sarcastically “thanked” for his leadership role in bringing the measles back to the U.K. to the point where, fourteen years after measles had been declared under control in the U.K., it was in 2008 declared endemic again.”