Refusal of Vaccination: A Test to Balance Societal and Individual Interests

Journal of Clinical Ethics 29 (3):206-216 (2018)
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While all states in the United States require certain vaccinations for school attendance, all but three allow for religious exemptions to receiving such vaccinations, and 18 allow for exemptions on the basis of other deeply held personal beliefs. The rights of parents to raise children as they see fit may conflict with the duty of the government and society to protect the welfare of children. In the U.S., these conflicts have not been settled in a uniform and consistent manner. We apply a test that provides a concrete and formal rubric to evaluate such conflicts. For some vaccinations, based on the individual medical characteristics of the disease and the risks of being unvaccinated, the test would suggest that permitting conscientious exemptions is ethical. However, for vaccinations protecting against other diseases that are more severe or easily transmitted, the test would suggest that the federal government may ethically impose laws that deny such exemptions.



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