Vaccine refusal is unethical

Got ethics ?

Excuse me while I catch my breath from laughing so hard. Kate Tietje, Modern Alternative Mama, has ventured into the world of moral reasoning and the results are just as hilarious as her attempts at medical advice.

Combining the ethics, narcissism and contempt for expertise of a Donald Trump with the medical knowledge of a rock, Asking People to Vaccinate for Others is Unethical is a monument to selfishness and stupidity.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Tietje combines the ethics, narcissism and contempt for expertise of a Donald Trump with the medical knowledge of a rock.[/pullquote]

Our most basic rights are to our own bodies. We decide what we eat … where we go … what we do. No one else has the right to interfere with our bodies — unless, of course, we have interfered with their bodies, and they are defending themselves. And in that case, it must be an immediate and obvious threat, not a future potential threat…

According to Tietje, that right frees people to reject vaccination regardless of who else is hurt by the decision.

The idea that we need to vaccinate for others’ sake is predicated on the idea that not vaccinating may, someday, inadvertently hurt another person. Therefore, we must take steps to stop that from happening.

There’s a lot of nonsense to unpack here.

Let’s start with the easy stuff.

First, the primary reason vaccines are mandated is to protect vaccinated children. It is unethical not to vaccinate your own children because it places them at risk for preventable disease and death.

Second, vaccination benefits the entire population because of herd immunity. When a large proportion of the population is vaccinated even the unvaccinated (those who are too young or too immunocompromised to receive the vaccine) are protected. How? If a large majority are vaccinated, a disease cannot spread within a population and the unvaccinated are much less likely to be exposed.

Tietje doesn’t “believe in” herd immunity. That’s irrelevant. In fact, the surest sign of scientific ignorance is contempt for expertise and Tietje is nothing if not contemptuous for experts in immunology, vaccine science, medicine and public health from every country around the world, all of who accept the principles of herd immunity.

What about the ethics of refusing to vaccinate to maintain herd immunity? Tietje piece seems to be referring to normative ethics. According to Philosophy Basics:

Normative Ethics … is the branch of ethics concerned with establishing how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong. It attempts to develop a set of rules governing human conduct, or a set of norms for action.

Tietje’ formulation of ethics seems to be that we can do anything we want so long as it doesn’t immediately and directly harm another. That’s not ethics; that’s just a variation of selfishness.

There is no right to do “decide what we eat … where we go … what we do.”

You can’t walk into a restaurant and eat the food UNLESS you pay for it.

You can’t walk into a building UNLESS you own it, are invited into it, or present evidence that you are entitled to be there for business or some other reason.

Tietje is correct that there is a right to bodily autonomy. But she fails to acknowledge that even the right to bodily autonomy is not unlimited. For example, there is no right to dodge the draft because you’re afraid of being harmed by war. So how do we decide what is ethical if you’re not entitled to do anything you want?

We can determine if something is ethical by considering what would happen if everyone did the same thing. If everyone refused to be drafted during war, we would be conquered by our enemies. It doesn’t matter that the result would be inadvertent or would not be immediate. That’s why there’s no right to refuse to be drafted.

But the army wouldn’t miss Tietje’s children, right? Having her children dodge the draft wouldn’t compromise the security of our nation, right? That’s the ethical conundrum known as the “free rider” problem. Free-riders are those who partake of the benefits of society without carrying any of its burdens.

The classic case of the free rider is a conservation water ban. People in a town are told not to water their lawns more than twice a week in order to conserve water. Most people, understanding the importance of water conservation, comply. However, there are always a few people who insists on secretly violating the ban. They believe that they will be protected from a water shortage because everyone else is conserving, and they don’t want to take the risk that their lawn will turn brown.

Free riders are unethical. How do we know? If everyone ignored the water ban the town would run out of water for people to drink and everyone would be harmed. So no matter how much you might WANT to water your lawn during a water ban, it is unethical to do so. It doesn’t matter that you are harming others inadvertently, that the harm is not immediate, or that no one can draw a direct line between your violation of ban and the lack of water.

So it doesn’t matter that people who don’t vaccinate their own children harm other children inadvertently, that the harm is not immediate, or that no one can draw a direct line between Tietje’s decision to withhold vaccines from her children to the injuries and deaths of other children from vaccine preventable diseases.

To summarize:

There is no “right” to do whatever you want. The right to bodily autonomy is not unlimited. Being a free rider is unscrupulous and dishonorable.

In other words, vaccine refusal is unethical.