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.

Tietje combines the ethics, narcissism and contempt for expertise of a Donald Trump with the medical knowledge of a rock.

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.

  • Chi

    I wonder what her stance is on abortion then. Given that she’s a confessed member of the Quiverful, I can likely guess what it would be.

    Cos to my way of thinking, you can’t use the ‘bodily autonomy’ argument as a reason to refuse vaccines, and then turn around and say that bodily autonomy doesn’t apply when a woman becomes pregnant.

    If you do, you’re a filthy, stinking hypocrite.

    But then, that’s par for the course for Kate, now isn’t it?

  • SionnanJ

    Kate is not amused. Her response to Dr. Amy is, “She’s an utter nutjob.” Such eloquence.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I could live without the bashing of draft-dodgers, since many people did that on principle. If you’re talking about Vietnam, which is what most people are talking about when they talk about draft-dodging, their view might have been not “We will be defeated by our enemies if I dodge the draft” but more like “Maybe enough people will resist that we’ll stop napalming kids for stupid political reasons.” But this is basically on-point. The no-harm principle–you can do what you want unless it causes harm to others, basically–seems to be what she’s trying to invoke here and it’s a pretty sound principle that underlies a lot of liberal ethics. But her invocation of it only works if you deny the fact that refusing vaccination causes harm. There’s no “might” about the harm that vaccine refusal causes. We already know what happens when people aren’t vaccinated, because we have thousands of years of data on it.

  • Mark

    I am going to go against the grain here. A parent who does not vaccinate their children, (other than for medical reasons) is not providing for the basic welfare of their children. The state can step in to prevent harm to the child.

    If we wish to live in a society, we need to make sure we don’t harm others.

    • Steph858

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re_A_(conjoined_twins)

      There is a case where the state intervened against the wishes of the parents to prevent harm to Jodie. Unlike with vaccines, there was no risk of harm to anyone other than the twins themselves. Also, whereas all reasonable people would agree that absent any genuine medical contraindications everyone should be vaccinated, this was a case where asking 3 people would get you 5 different answers as to what the right outcome was. Vaccination is a fairly black-and-white issue compared with this case where there were many many shades of grey. So if the state can intervene here, it ought to do so far more readily to ensure children are vaccinated.

      • Mark

        It should

        I agree, but sadly that is not the case.

        It’s the lack of any immediate harm that is probably the hardest part about making that argument work.

  • MaineJen

    ” 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.”

    Well, there it is, in her own words. By not vaccinating her children, she ‘interferes’ with the bodies of every immunocompromised person with which they come in contact.

    She’s lost her own argument.

    • Roadstergal

      Exactly right. If she believes in her own ethics, her unvaccinated children have no right to interact with other human beings (which includes breathing shared air and touching shared surfaces).

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Of course, this isn’t about ethics. This is about her selfishness and her, her, her.

  • Mel

    The article would be more coherent if she used nouns instead of free-ranging pronouns.

    I think she’s arguing that personal autonomy outweighs governmental and societal curtailing of personal autonomy to protect public health. (I think…)

    That’s a fairly dead issue in ethics; governments are charged with protecting public health and have the obligation to curtail personal autonomy of some to protect the health of most. That’s not controversial.

    I think she’s trying to argue next that the controversial part comes because the risks of vaccination are so much higher than the risks of non-vaccination that government enforced vaccination is unethical.

    The problem with that argument is that the correct comparison is the dangers of non-vaccination leading to disease compared to the risks of vaccination. The current death rate for measles is 1:500; treated diphtheria kills at 1:20 – 1:5. The death rate from vaccinations is nowhere near 1:500 let alone 1:5.

    There are always side-effects for refusing to follow governmental safety ordinances. Access to public education at a school, for instance, can be denied if the risks to the other students – say, a 1:20 shot of dying of diphtheria if their DTAP didn’t take – outweigh the issues of denying public education to an un-vaccinated student. That’s not unethical.

    Finally, “ASKING” something is rarely unethical. I can ask you to wear stupid looking Christmas sweaters to a birthday party in June – even though the risks of overheating and having a sprained dignity are real.

    • Bombshellrisa

      OT but I thought of you the other day when one of the local farms that sells raw milk mentioned that they had vet tech students at the farm that day. Apparently they had to “educate” the students about how to use homeopathy and herbs to keep cows healthy since the students had never heard of that before.

      • myrewyn

        My vet friends can tell you about “natural” remedies for livestock. One horse owner was using a natural dewormer on her horse and refused the “chemical” ones because she was convinced the horse was free of parasites. The horse was a chronic colicker (not the same in horses as infants by the way). When it finally died of colic, a necropsy revealed a gut teeming with worms. The vet said it was the worst he’d ever seen.

        • fishcake

          Poor horse. 🙁

        • Azuran

          I’ve seen many people use ‘natural’ remedies on their dogs and cat.
          Best case scenario it does nothing. But it usually results in a longer wait before they seek care (so the animal is more sick) and I’ve seen a few cases of intoxication and chemical burns. (because somehow pouring boric acid in your dog’s eyes or ears is better than putting evil medication in them)

          • WHAT?! Boric acid in the eyes? Why don’t they try it on themselves first, if they’re so convinced that it’s a good idea to put acids on sensitive mucous membranes.

          • Azuran

            Apparently, watered down boric acid is some kind of old natural remedy (That can be used for apparently everything and anything, as is often the case with natural remedies).
            I’ve seen it used twice. With horrible results both times.
            Hey, the cat might have had all the skin of both his ear canals burned away with the most horrible ear infection/inflammation I’ve ever seen and might be deaf, BUT, it didn’t have ear mites when I examined it. (Whether or not it ever even had ear mites to begin with will never be known)

          • Mariana

            I have used a solution of boric acid and water on my eyes plenty of times. Maybe it’s a very weak solution, but it does clear pink eye. It’s sold in drugstores here in Brazil for that specific purpose. I don’t have pets, so I don’t know if it’s safe for them. Should I not be using it?

          • Azuran

            dunno about humans. But I wouldn’t use it in pets. There are many other common eye problems in pets for which it is totally useless or possibly harmful. An eye exam is always indicated before starting treatment.

          • Azuran

            its entirely possible the owners I saw used products that were way too concentrated. (That’s that happens when you listen to idiots on facebook)
            But in all cases where I saw people use it, it would have been pretty ineffective in treating what the animals actually had.
            I would actually never even recommend it.

          • Eater of Worlds

            It’s sold in pharmacies in the US too. It’s idiots who make up their own solution without doing research as to the right amounts who are a problem, and many get their information from homeopathic or naturopathic websites which are a bastion of misinformation.

          • I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know. I was more responding to the idea that it gave some animals chemical burns. Maybe it wasn’t diluted enough?

          • Christy

            We have a client right now who’s driving us crazy. We’re trying to treat her Doberman for his heart failure. But, you know, her naturopath (guessing here) says that he doesn’t need that awful furosemide and it’s so bad for the kidneys so let’s replace it with a supplement. Who does she text in the middle of the night when the dog’s coughing and can’t breathe? Not the freaking naturopath, that’s for sure!

          • Empliau

            I do give my dog and cat (with my vet’s permission) about a teaspoonful of yogurt, which claims to have active cultures, most mornings. It’s my normal breakfast anyway, and when my dog was finishing a month of antibiotics, I thought it might do her good. They love it and have shown no ill effects so far. But I don’t do this stuff without checking with their doctor, same as I do for myself 😉

          • Christy

            Hey, as long as their stomachs handle it go for it!

          • Empliau

            I confess that the first time I tried it it didn’t seem to agree with my dog – I gave her a couple tablespoonfuls. Learned my lesson. Small dog, a Cavalier – now she gets about a heaping teaspoonful. It’s been about two months and so far, so good.

          • Christy

            Awww a Cavie! I love that breed.

          • Empliau

            You’d love her. Adorable good girl. Sadly went mostly deaf at about six, but luckily when we trained her we used hand signals as well as voice commands, so we can still make her sit, etc. And when awake they’re pretty focused on their people, so communication isn’t really a problem. Plus spaniels live mostly through their nose. As long as she can eat, smell stuff, and play fetch, she’s happy.

          • Azuran

            Human food in small amount isn’t really bad for pets, unless they have some kind of medical problem, allergies or food sensitivities.
            People just tend to over do it.

          • Empliau

            I tend to be a bit overprotective – my parents gave their dog pancreatitis (regular infusions of bacon grease), plus Cavaliers, while not the geniuses of the dog world, have an excellent memory for having got treats and expect them to continue. And I want to keep my pets at a healthy weight and discourage begging. So yogurt and the occasional bit of scrambled egg are the only people food my dog gets.

          • Daleth

            God how irritating.

          • Roadstergal

            That poor dog. I want to grab the pet of everyone shopping the homeopathy section of Pet Club and take them home. :p

            Mine get the evil chemical worm preventive and fipronil flea/tick stuff. And dry dog kibble. Hey, that stuff is engineered to be right for them, and they love it.

          • Christy

            The vet I work for is usually much more relaxed about his patients receiving alternative treatments than I am. He’ll tell people as long as it’s not causing harm to go ahead and add whatever supplements they think will help. He likes to know, so he can make sure it’s safe but otherwise he doesn’t really care. But try to take a heart failure patient off his diuretic and you have crossed a line! I’ve rarely seen him rant like that.

          • Azuran

            By themselves, alternative products are generally harmless. So unless it’s causing problems, most vet don’t really care…..As long as you actually go to the vet first to get a proper diagnostic.
            People without a proper vet formation are EXTREMELY bad at diagnosing their pet’s illness. They are almost never right and very often will not recognize very alarming clinical signs. I lurk in a lot of ‘animal’ groups, and the medical advises they give one another are just absolutely horrible and often dangerous.

          • Christy

            Completely agree! That’s why I had to stop lurking in online animal groups, it was getting to be bad for my health.

          • Empliau

            I imagine it’s a lot like being a pediatrician – I read on one discussion board that parents are (in general) the experts on whether something’s wrong, but definitely not to be trusted on what’s wrong. We know when something’s off, and then we gotta trust the experts, assuming we’re a.) responsible and b.) sane.

          • Empliau

            I crumble a freeze-dried dog treat over my dog’s kibble. She was desperately jealous of the cat’s wet food (Cavaliers are terminally greedy) but she would kill for freeze-dried treats. Now everybody’s happy!

          • Azuran
          • Eater of Worlds

            To be honest, some kibbles and canned food are crap, and the food only has to be tested for something like 6 months on dogs to gain AAFCO accreditation. So no long term studies on health. And in 2015 they tested the most commonly fed foods from crappy Ol’ Roy, cheapest of the cheap to more expensive foods like Wellness and Hill’s prescription diets and found all of them had mycotoxins, nutrient levels not at the levels stated and has potentially dangerous bacteria in it. http://truthaboutpetfood.com/the-pet-food-test-results/ I’m more worried about mycotoxins and nutrient levels than I am about finding some bacteria, what matters are bacterial levels because you can’t get bacteria free food; I’m well aware that even my fully cooked chicken fresh from the oven still might have dangerous bacteria on it.

            Recently Evanger’s and food made by Evanger’s has killed or sickened pets because it had euthanasia drugs in it.

            There’s big problems in pet food, the FDA hasn’t abided by Congress’ orders to make sure food is safe.

            That said, I feed commercial dog food and cross my fingers. I would feed raw but it’s not feasible for me.

          • Empliau

            In Agatha Christie, people dissolve boracic acid powder in water (a weak solution) to put in eyes. But the acid itself, not so much. And anyway that’s in a novel from sixty years ago. I love Dame Agatha, but I don’t turn to her for medical advice ….

          • FallsAngel

            Here are some interesting factoids about boric acid. https://www.drugs.com/mtm/boric-acid-ophthalmic.html
            Back in the late 60s, I worked as a nurse’s aid in a hospital, and I remember it being around but I do not remember ever using it. I think it was falling out of favor by then.

          • maidmarian555

            The Victorians used to put boracic acid in milk as it stopped it from smelling and tasting ‘off’ (Mrs Beeton recommended it). Sadly it didn’t do anything to prevent the growth of bacteria and a lot of children died from drinking contaminated milk as a result.

      • Mel

        *eye twitches convulsively*

        The herbs might not do too much damage since cows do eat a wide variety of plants. Homeopathy…well….yeah. I guess it can’t do too much damage as a preventative, but is worthless to treat diseases.

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          Well one hopes, they don’t mistake White snakeroot, Milk vetch, or Jimson weed for helpful herbs…

          I read “Wicked Plants, the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother” a few years ago. Interesting reading to say the least…

          • Mel

            White Snake root is hard to get a hold of now; it’s been pretty well eradicated. But Jimson Weed is pretty bad….

      • Eater of Worlds

        Ugh, someone tried to argue with me that raw milk causes illness no more often than pasteurized milk. And it doesn’t…except you have millions drinking pasteurized milk and hundreds, maybe low thousands, drinking raw. They failed to see why the amount of raw milk illness was a problem.

    • Empliau

      Upvoted for the sprained dignity! When I read “A Wrinkle in Time”, that line made me question whether I really knew the meaning of sprain and dignity.

      • Roadstergal

        I love that line to death.

  • Mel

    God, she doesn’t even pretend to understand how disease transmission works, does she?

    Diseases that only spread when the infected person is showing symptoms that make them miserable are actually pretty easy to deal with through quarantine and management of potentially infectious materials. This is why Ebola hasn’t made any headway outside of areas of limited areas of Africa.

    Diseases that have a contagious period prior to symptoms – including all of the childhood diseases – are really hard to control through quarantine alone since the first person in a quarantine unit (like a family) who becomes visibly ill may have already passed the disease on to someone else outside of the unit previously.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    Forcing someone to get vaccinated is wrong. But refusing vaccines for non-medical reasons is wrong, too. It’s one thing if you cannot have x vaccine or you don’t seroconvert to y vaccine, and something completely different if you refuse because you’re under the dubious impression that catching measles is better for you.
    Signed, a person made hearing impaired by a common childhood disease and whose daughter is already scheduled for her MMR a couple days after her 1st birthday, but worries a bit about the next 2 months.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      No one is “forced” to get vaccinated. They are required to have vaccinations if they choose to participate in various ventures offered, both publicly and privately, but that is the cost of participation.

      You are not required to attend public school. But if you choose to do it, you must comply with the regulations for doing so.

      How is that in any way an affront to anything?

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        Perhaps I should have written “would be” rather than “is,” since I was speaking theoretically.

    • maidmarian555

      Wee man had his MMR today. I can’t tell you how relieved I feel, I’ve been pretty much counting down to it since he was born.

      • Lilly de Lure

        Great news! Counting the days until I can do the same for mine (6 months to go)!

        • Christy

          Almost a month for mine. I can’t wait! We have a mumps outbreak here and I can’t help but worry about measles too.

    • SporkParade

      Yeah, no, I’m okay forcing people to vaccinate their children. We force Jehovah’s Witnesses to let doctors give their children blood transfusions. The only reason I can possibly think that we allow people to not vaccinate, but we will arrest them or call CPS for letting their 9 year olds play in the park alone is that it’s well-off whites not vaccinating.

  • Laura

    She’s right in the sense that we cannot physically force her to vaccinate her children. But in return, the government has the right not to education her children or provide her with any number of benefits. Doctors have the right not to see her children as patients. Private corporations (Disneyworld, Target) should have the right to deny her entry.

    In my mind, it no longer makes sense to argue with these people. We should instead start using our power to pressure governments, and service providers, and corporations to protect us.

    • Allie

      The thing that irks me is that if an Outbreak/Contagion-type scenario took place for realz in N.A., and a vaccine was developed for it, I bet the farm she’d be the first in line to get her and her precious snowflakes vaccinated. Privilege is only fun when you think you’re safe from any actual harm, but when the shit gets real, not so much.

    • Bugsy

      Yes; I very much like the part about being denied entry. The anti-vaxxers we knew were planning to home school, but regularly took their child to museums, library story times, shopping, etc. On a separate note, in the middle of a local outbreak of some VPD, my son was happily playing with a sweet little guy at a McDonald’s play land when the dad proudly announced that they were completely opposed to vaccination.

      No vaccine is 100%. As a parent, I would like to know who is more susceptible to illnesses as a result of their parents’ decisions to avoid vaccines, so that in turn I can make the judgment needed for the safety of my own children. I am not interested in having them exposed to whooping cough, measles or chicken pox simply by being in the wrong public / private place at the wrong time. As a parent this day in age, I believe that should be a given.