The U.S. is experiencing its first measles outbreak since the vaccine for the disease was made widely available, in 1963. The disease was thought to be eradicated nationwide in the following decades; its re-emergence now is due entirely to the refusal of a small-yet-vocal class of mostly-affluent, otherwise-educated parents ranging from Marin County to Minnesota, from Nebraska to New York, to get their children vaccinated. The idea, much like disease itself, is spreading: a recent poll found that more than one-in-five Americans aged 18-29 believe vaccines cause autism. Now, some New York State legislators are pushing a bill that would make it much easier for parents to obtain vaccine exemptions for their children.
There are bad reasons for not wanting to vaccinate your children (the thoroughly-debunked science linking autism to vaccinations) and selfish reasons (your child’s health is a matter of public safety). There’s an understandable reason, too, related to the truth that “parenting is, at its very heart, an irrational and self-interested pursuit.” But that’s where government is supposed to come in. Good governance bridges the gap between the individual interest and the common good. Left to our own devices, civil society would look more like Lord of the Flies and less, well, civilized.
The bill, which is sponsored by Assembly Democrat Tom Abinanti of Westchester and State Senate Democrat Martin Dilan of Brooklyn, would grant parents the option of a “philosophical exemption,” something that is already available in 19 other states. The bill has an additional six sponsors in the Assembly and one more sponsor in the Senate. Similar bills have failed in previous sessions, although the support behind this one, while not critical, is growing.
Abinati, whose son has autism, told Capital New York that he believes there are “possible adverse effects, whatever they may be,” to vaccinations, and that it is the “right of parents to determine who invades the body of their children.” The bill includes language about “legitimate concerns” regarding the role vaccinations play in childhood disorders and diseases, which is ludicrous, because there are none. Dilan, in a statement, reiterated that the science proves vaccines work, but that if we’re going to grant religious exemptions, then we must allow for a vote for a philosophical opt-out, too.
This is, it should go without saying, fallacious reasoning. It undermines the very purpose of democratic governance. And it’s a slippery slope: if this is allowed, where do the civil society opt-outs stop? Philosophical exemptions to the idea of private ownership? To taxes (oh, wait)? To law itself?
“It represents a severe public health threat to children who can contract measles,” Sean Graham, president of The Floating Hospital, told Capital. “That includes families who come to clinics to get their children immunized. Those children could be exposed in waiting rooms or New York public facilities like parks. The reasons you have public health requirements is to prevent it from spreading to people who do believe in the vaccination process.”
This is a bad, dangerous idea, driven by scare-mongering and base-pandering, and founded on logic whose endpoint is a pestilence-ridden, woefully unequal society. We’re halfway there already. Won’t someone think of the children?
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.