Say an unvaccinated child has the measles and passes the disease onto a baby who’s too young to be vaccinated. If that baby gets ill (or worse), should its parents be able to sue the infected child’s parents for negligence?
That’s the question that’s recently been raised by one bioethicist in the Journal of Law Medicine and Ethics.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children under the age of six be vaccinated for 14 infectious diseases including hepatitis, measles and mumps—all diseases that are spread from person to person. Some hold that vaccinations are the most effective form of health intervention of the 21st century, preventing the spread of deadly diseases.
While some opt out for religious or philosophical reasons, or because of a prior reaction to vaccinations, others choose to forgo vaccinations due to personal beliefs—that’s a choice that proponents of vaccinations argue is a threat to public health and safety.
Some states that have been affected, including New York, blame the rise in preventable diseases like measles on the fact that fewer people are getting vaccinated.
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Does foregoing vaccinations really pose a public health risk? Can parents who don’t vaccinate their children be held legally liable for the spread of a disease? Is science able to prove where a disease originates?
Arthur Caplan, Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center; he wrote "Liability for Failure to Vaccinate."
Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law at University of California Hastings College of Law