But what about my freedom to sicken small children and let babies die?

Freedom written red pencil

As if the anti-vaccine movement wasn’t already a complete circus!

The arrival of Presidential pander bears Chris Christie and Rand Paul has made it a three ring circus, the third ring being anti-vaxxers’ much vaunted “freedom” to do what they want.

The argument goes something like this:

If I lose the freedom to sicken small children and let babies die by refusing to vaccinate my children, the next step will be jackbooted thugs implanting us all with computer chips to control our minds and pave the way for world government.

Haven’t heard about the freedom to sicken small children, let babies die, and bring nearly abolished deadly diseases back from near extinction?

I don’t know why not. It is enshrined in the same place as these freedoms:

  • The freedom to dodge the draft because you’re afraid of being harmed by war.
  • The freedom to dodge income tax when you don’t like the President.
  • The freedom to dodge laws against theft and robbery when you need a little extra cash.
  • The freedom to burn down your neighbor’s house when it obstructs your view.
  • The freedom to obstruct your neighbor’s view by building a 90 ft. fence surrounding your property.

Wait, what??!! We’re not free to do those things? Why not?

Because the greatness of America lies in the fact that its two most important principles are freedom AND justice! American freedom is not absolute. It is tempered by the American commitment to justice. To those on the Right who seem to have forgotten the justice component, let me remind you that it comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition that you claim animated the founding of this country. Your freedom ends where the harms to others begin.

How do we settle disputes where your freedom to do what you want harms others?

John Rawls, the greatest political philosopher of modern times wrote that if we want to know what justice requires of us, we ought to imagine the world we would want if we didn’t know the position that we would occupy in that world. In other words, justice is what we would choose if we didn’t know if we were rich or poor, black or white, brilliant or plodding, talented or talentless. In the case of vaccination, justice is what you would want if you didn’t know whether you were immunocompetent and could potentially fend off vaccine preventable diseases, or immunocompromised and would almost certainly die if exposed to those same diseases. Rawls was harking back to the principle of Immanuel Kant:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.

In other words, if you want to know whether an action is ethical, imagine a world where everyone behaved as you did.

Imagine a world where everyone dodged the draft. The country would be overwhelmed and destroyed in short order.

Imagine a world where everyone stole anything they could. You couldn’t run a business or operate a bank. You couldn’t accomplish anything if people had the “freedom” to steal whatever they coveted.

Now imagine a world where everyone had the “freedom” to refuse vaccination, and imagine further that you don’t know whether you and your children can potentially survive the inevitable resurgence of vaccine preventable disease or you (or more likely) your children will certainly die.

What would that world look like? There would be a lot of dead bodies in it and some of them would be your children.

A world in which everyone has the “freedom” to refuse to vaccinate is a world of death and misery, hardly better than a world where everyone has the “freedom” to steal from others.

Just as there is no “freedom” to burn down your neighbor’s house to improve your view, there is no “freedom” to refuse to vaccinate your children against vaccine preventable diseases.

It doesn’t matter whether your neighbor could easily rebuild his house elsewhere; it doesn’t matter if he didn’t really care about his view; it doesn’t matter if he was thinking about moving across the country, anyway; your “freedom” to see what you want from your windows ends where his house begins.

Similarly, it doesn’t matter whether you think vaccines work; it doesn’t matter whether you think vaccines cause autism; it doesn’t matter if you think it would be safer for your children to refuse vaccination; your “freedom” to raise your children as you see fit ends where the lives and health of other children begin.

Listen up:

You never had the “freedom” to sicken small children and let babies die, so stop whining about being deprived of it!