Individual Rights, Freedom, and Society

One of the most difficult paths to navigate in governing is that of balancing individual rights and freedom with that of societal requirements. Last month [November4; Fear Rules, Health Suffers], VoxFairfax offered comment on the issue of mandatory vaccination. Recently, an outbreak of chickenpox occurred at a private school of 152 children in North Carolina. An unknown but sizable number of the students (estimated at 28) were not vaccinated based upon religious exemption.

All 50 states have laws requiring vaccination of children before entering school, with exemptions for medical reasons, while 45 also offer an exemption to parents who object for religious or even personal or philosophical reasons.    

The debate over such a mandate received national attention during the ACA debate,and continues today. The insurance theory, as with all forms of insurance, is to spread the cost of the insurable event over the broadest cohort of persons. In the health care debate, an added factor is a federal requirement to provide treatment to all who enter an emergency room. Every insured person shares in covering that cost. Auto liability insurance is handled similarly.

Often, when religion factors into a debate about individual rights or freedoms, the advocacy is supported by a claim that the nation was founded as a Judeo-Christian country, despite the absence of any historical evidence for that assertion.

Parents who elect not to have their children vaccinated often assert a religious or philosophical reason. SCOTUS, too, has elevated individual rights over those of a group, e.g., Janus v. AFSCME, June 2018, in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay dues to public-sector unions on the allegation that the monies may in some part be used for purposes with which they disagree. 

A question arises whether such individual rights or freedoms are absolute in protection or enforcement against those of the larger society. Should parents who decline vaccination protection be in some way liable for medical expenses incurred other children who are subsequently infected? What is the outcome should any such infection cause permanent injury?

Is society’s interest in the health and welfare of children superior to that of parental desires about religion or philosophy? What is the response when an epidemic breaks out due to non-vaccinated individuals? Is the right to refuse vaccination different for children as opposed to adults? What is the societal boundary, and how does it square with individual freedoms, religious or otherwise? These questions are not easily answered, but must be grappled with.

Categories: Issues, National, State

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