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by James Corbett
July 17, 2012
Nothing could be more antithetical to the very idea of individual freedom than to have governments telling us that we must put some substance in our bodies. Without ownership of our body and the attendant right to refuse this or that medicine as we see fit, we are nothing more than slaves of the state. This is a principle that has been long understood.
But the reasons against mandating medical treatments rest on practicalities as much as ideal. The plain fact is that even if we can trust that governments only ever work in the interest of the people and not the medical-industrial lobby that pumps billions of dollars a year into Washington, D.C., they are still prone to error and thus their medical judgements should never be mandated on the public.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his “Notes on the State of Virginia“:
“Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potato as an article of food. […] It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”
Most of these points are intrinsically understood by the population without need of explanation. If the government were to come out tomorrow and mandate the eating of broccoli to be enforced by door to door visits by the police, there would be outrage, and rightly so.
Almost since their inception, vaccinations have been treated as a medical procedure that can be mandated on large groups of people.
In 1777 George Washington mandated that the entire Continental Army be inoculated against smallpox.
In 1855, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren.
In 1898, the British parliament passed an act allowing conscientious objectors to opt out of mandatory smallpox vaccinations.
Meanwhile, back in the US, in 1905 the Supreme Court ruled mandatory smallpox vaccinations constitutional, such authority resting in the “police power” of the state, and denying any British-style exemption of personal choice.
In 1922, the Supreme Court again ruled in favor of mandatory vaccination, claiming that schools were within their right to exclude students who failed to provide proof of vaccination.
By 1926, anti-vaccine sentiment was on the rise. When health officials in Delaware attempted to vaccinate the townsfolk of Georgetown, a retired Army lieutenant and a city councilman successfully led an armed mob in routing them out of town.
In 1947, a new medical precedent was set with the Nuremberg Laws, passed in the wake of the Nazi medical experimentation atrocities. It set the principle that all patients should have voluntary, informed consent and the right to control their own body.
In 1966, New York passed a religious exemption statute in their public health law. Minnesota followed suit the next year with a religious and medical exemption in their school immunization law. By 1978, the category was changed from religious belief to “conscientiously held belief.”
Now every state in the union has at least two of the three possible exemptions from mandatory vaccination: medical, religious or philosophical. Still, the issue continues to be tested in the courts, with the Wyoming Supreme Court hearing a case in 2001 where the Health Department refused a patient’s religious exemption. The Court ruled that the government has no right to decide the credibility or sincerity of medical exemptions.
Now the fight against government-mandated vaccines is coming to a head in California, where a newly-introduced bill, AB 2109, would force parents to go to their doctor to get a personal belief exemption to prevent their children from being vaccinated.
The war on vaccination exemptions has been part of a long battle against freedom of choice in vaccination, one that has long intimidated and confused parents into having their children vaccinated against their will and in violation of the principle of informed consent. Earlier this year, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center joined Peter B. Collins and Sibel Edmonds on the Boiling Frogs Post podcast to discuss the issue.
In the end, this fight is not about anyone’s personal beliefs over the efficacy or inefficacy of any particular vaccine. It is about the right to say no to enforced medical treatment. The decisions that our society are making today about how, when, and why we will accept government mandates over medical procedures will have repercussions on generations of future children who will be subject to those laws.
If the vaccine proponents are serious in their belief in the necessity of vaccination, using the government as a big stick to make everyone else conform to their beliefs is surely the wrong way to go about convincing anybody of anything. After all, as Jefferson noted, only folly and error requires government mandate; truth can stand on its own.
What, then, to make of this push in recent years to introduce more restrictive laws pushing for greater governmental coercion in vaccination? Do we as a society really want to sign our country over to the whims of whatever bunch of cronies find themselves in public office, receiving unknown funds from big pharma lobbies to push new, untested vaccines on our children?