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Greater good vs rights: What should be done about anti-vaxxers?

Following a recent outbreak of measles in Minnesota, the familiar battle cries of the anti-vaccine movement and their detractors are being heard yet again.

On the one side, you have people who claim that vaccines are bad for kids — a scam perpetrated by the medical profession that could lead to serious health consequences. On the other, you have those who are worried about herd immunity and who think that anti-vaxxers should be forced to comply with medical recommendations for the good of society as a whole.

Personally, I take a somewhat more nuanced position in this ongoing argument. First, the facts: I do not believe that vaccines are harmful to children. The evidence for such claims is insufficient, and I remain unpersuaded. That being said, I do support parents’ rights to make decisions about their childrens’ health, even if it means defying the state or medical orthodoxy.

To begin with, a certain degree of skepticism toward official dogma is always healthy, particularly in a field like medicine, where dangerous misinformation has historically outnumbered sound advice many-fold.

Let us recall that bloodletting, leeches, and the use of toxic mercury were all once universally held to be beneficial to patients. In the early 20th century, it was en vogue to surgically remove part of the large intestine, due to the belief that severe constipation and fecal matter released toxins that poisoned the body. People died from this ridiculous surgery.

Not long after, it was believed that drinking water laced with radium or other radioactive elements could make you more healthy and energetic. Of course, the craze only lasted until people started dying very painful deaths from radiation poisoning. My point is not that doctors are always wrong or that they should be ignored, but that they are fallible, and that it is incumbent on each of us to think for ourselves — and not blindly comply with what the experts tell us to do.

It’s understandable that someone wouldn’t want their children stabbed with needles at the mandate of the state. And though I may disagree with them, I can’t really fault them for exercising their independence. After all, there is a word for coercively administering drugs to a child without his parents’ consent: assault.

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