Parenting Rights and Vaccination – Where do they end? Or begin?

I’m extremely pro-vaccination.  I make no secret of that and no apologies for that.  I’m also a believer in parenting as one chooses.  But right now, I’m in a quandary.  My pro-vaccination stance and my belief in parenting rights are at odds.

Because so many are exercising their parenting rights to keep their children in a way that I consider to be risky due to my pro-vaccination stance, I’m forced to wonder where your parenting rights end and mine begin.  The old saying is that “your rights end where his nose begins.”  Does that mean your parenting rights end where mine begin?

Parenting Rights and Vaccination - Where do they end? Or begin? (Cloth Diaper Addicts)Measles and whooping cough have made a come back.  Each time an area has an outbreak, it’s linked to an un-vaccinated person.  A friend of mine lives in the New York City area.  Her child is too young to receive the MMR vaccine.  She’s been known to stay home with her child rather than take him on public transit (since she’s one of those non-car having New Yorkers) because she feels the dangers are too high before the outbreak is contained.  There’s more than one tragic tale of a baby dying from whooping cough because he got it from someone else who was not vaccinated.

To put it in context: If you put 100 vulnerable people in a room with someone (just ONE person) infected with measles, 90 of them will contract the illness.1  In contrast, the average flu carrier infects 1 to 3 people.2  That’s a big, big difference.

I can’t help but think about parenting rights.  I’m not comfortable with the concept of forced vaccination.  It’s interfering with one’s parenting philosophies… and possibly religious beliefs or health issues.  After all, it seems like whenever something truly becomes “mandatory,” there aren’t enough exceptions made for those who can’t meet the criteria.

But… what about that person whose child dies from another parent’s right not to vaccinate?  Does that mean that the parent who did not vax is morally culpable for the death of another child?  Should that parent be legally culpable and charged with depraved indifference homicide?  Should the parent who lost their child be able to sue the parent who did not vaccinate in civil court if they or their children are found to be “ground zero” for the community’s outbreak?

Where do your parenting rights and not vaccinating end and my rights to keep my children (who, theoretically, could not be vaccinated either due to age or health issues) alive from vaccine-preventable illness begin?

1.) Offit, Paul A., and Charlotte A. Moser. Vaccines & Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. 166. Print.
2.) Maki, Allan. “Measles in Canada: Why This Infectious Disease Is Spreading Add to …” The Globe and Mail. N.p., 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <>.

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Note: I recognize that this post will be controversial.  It’s fine to disagree, but debate must be civil.  I reserve the right to remove comments that are not.

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. i get my kids there vaccinations because i couldn’t live with myself if they got serious sick because i did not. that being said a few years ago two of my children were infected with whooping cough anyway and they in turn infected several others. if we allow parents of a child who infects other children to be sued or charged then would there be exceptions to that rule. in my case then would the place that gave them there shots be liable or the company that made the vaccine. there are just to many variables to make a law on this.

  2. The question is personal rights versus public good. For example, public smoking bans protect the public good while protecting non-smokers’ rights to clean air but while denying smokers’ rights to smoke (if that is even a right). Vaccination laws protect the public good (prevent preventable diseases) while protecting the rights of pro-vaccinators against preventable diseases but while denying the right of anti-vaccinators to acquire preventable diseases. The question is also of parental rights versus child rights. Do parents have the right to decide that children can become infected with preventable diseases? If I fail to feed my child, resulting in starvation, that is neglect. How is allowing a child to contract a vaccine-preventable disease for a non-medical reason any different. To me, the answer is clear. Vaccines should be mandatory to protect the public good and the personal rights of others not to contract diseases. History makes a good case for mandatory vaccines. When vaccines were 100% mandatory, disease rates fell, and, in the case of smallpox, diseases disappeared. Disease like measles, polio, etc. can also be eradicated with vaccines. Unfortunately, until all people realize that vaccines are safe and effective, the only way to prevent these diseases is with mandatory vaccines.
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    • But at the same time, though, it’s not saying that smokers can’t smoke anywhere, ever, period… while banning or criminalizing all tobacco products would. I agree that the only way to eradicate these diseases is through vaxing (like smallpox)… but I also have a friend who has a baby under a year old with cancer. Vaxing isn’t an option for her, and since there are those who can’t vax for those reasons, 100% mandatory doesn’t work.

      And if it were made 100% mandatory without religious exemption, I suspect that would somehow be challenged under the church/state clause.

  3. It’s a tough question. Like you I am rabidly pro-vax and yes, I am educated on the matter (for the naysayers who will undoubtedly show up) but I am also very much for the right for a parent to raise their children as they see fit. In most cases another parent’s choices won’t affect MY child, though. In general I don’t worry about unvaccinated people since we have had our vaccines but when I was pregnant with my youngest whooping cough was coming back. My whole family had to have boosters for it just in case but that meant that I also had to worry about my newborn baby when we went to the grocery store or anywhere else. Because of other people’s choices, my child was potentially at risk until he could be vaccinated. It’s a slippery slope for sure.

  4. Legitimate medical reasons are reasons not to vaccinate. The CDC, AAP, and other groups even list the individuals who should not receive certain vaccines.

    And until recently, when law makers caved, the church/state issue did not apply to vaccines because vaccines were required for all. Only when the law allowed one certain group of individuals not to vaccinate did the other exemptions start to occur. The law is so wishy washy.
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  5. From the second article you referenced: “Measles is highly contagious: A carrier typically infects 12 to 18 others who are unvaccinated and six to seven who are partially vaccinated. (By comparison a person with the flu infects one to three others.)”

    Yet you state: “To put it in context: If you put 100 vulnerable people in a room with someone (just ONE person) infected with measles, 90 of them will contract the illness. In contrast, the average flu carrier infects 1 to 3 people. That’s a big, big difference.”

    You don’t define “vulnerable people” here; do you mean those who are unvaccinated? You’re throwing numbers around here but not comparing them properly. You state how many out of 100 “vulnerable” people will be infected if they are in the same room, and ask us to compare that to how many people (vaccinated? not vaccinated? the article you cite doesn’t elaborate) the average flu carrier infects. It becomes meaningless.

    My kids are vaccinated and I don’t know where I stand on where the line is with the rights of each set of parents, but tossing around numbers like this without there being a proper comparison doesn’t help anyone reach a reasonable conclusion.

    • I’m actually citing two separate sources. Either way you slice it, measles is a LOT more contagious than the flu.

  6. I don’t think the words “forced” and “medical care” should be put together in the same sentence. LOL That sets off my human rights meter big time. Using the same arguments about “the common good” the medical community has committed atrocities like forced sterilizations in the past – yes, even in our “free” country. The flawed idea is that basically someone else knows better than you how you should live your life, and if you don’t agree they literally believe they can take your life in their hands. But it’s your life, right? Or in this case, your child’s life. Essentially, no man is fit to govern another.

    Although I am generally “pro vax” (my children are on a delayed/modified schedule approved and recommended by our family doctor) it’s still a fact that vaccines do carry some risk, even when administered to healthy persons. If we make vaccines mandatory we’re FORCING parents to put their children at risk, even if the risk is very small.

    Let’s look at this on the flip side. Could a family sue their doctor, or the government, for forcing their child to get a vaccine if their child happens to be one of the few who will be seriously injured, or even killed, by the shots?

    Hard-line pro-vaccers would say “Well, that’s an unfortunate but rare reality, however the benefit of mandatory vaccination to society is still worth it.” That sounds very noble…..unless it is your child who died…..and who would be alive and healthy if you had simply been “left alone” and been allowed to decline the shots.

    As to whether parents could sue if a very young child who had not received certain shots yet died from a disease (supposedly) contracted from a non-vaccinated child……I think it would be too hard to prove in a court of law how and where and from whom your child contracted the disease. Yes, they may have come in contact with an infected, non-vaccinated child, but to my knowledge there’s no way to document this beyond a shadow of a doubt. That would be like trying to figure out exactly who or what gave you that deadly staph infection at the hospital.

    • Perhaps. I’m just wondering because of how the papers (and our regional health authorities up here) determine that patient zero picked up the illness while in Sweden or another Nordic country, and patient zero was unvaxed and brought it back.

  7. Perhaps they have some very probable facts to go on, but I still think that actually proving something in court is a horse of a different color. You really gotta have all your ducks in a row. You’d need to prove exactly when and where the contact occurred, but as far as I know, even the best doctor can’t tell anyone exactly when they contracted a disease. It’s always just an estimate. If they are off by even a day, then that could completely change the source of contact. Doesn’t seem solid enough for an actual criminal conviction.

    Which relieves me no end.

  8. We have moved as a society to a spot were we can’t just do what ever we please with our kids – we can’t sell them, we can’t beat them, we can’t starve them, we can’t leave them alone in a car, we have to fasten them into car seats, etc – no matter what we believe ourselves is the best for our child or family. Mandatory vaccinations is another thing that I think should be enacted for the good of each child and for society as a whole. I think it comes down to do you want to have the possibility of having an adverse reactions or having your child die or have a disability caused by preventable bacterial infection. I firmly believe in social responsibility. Would you want me working with your frail elderly parent/grandparent if I didn’t have my flu shot or if I was at work sick? Would you bring/send a peanut butter sandwich to school if you know that there is a child there with a peanut allergy? I have a 9 month old who isn’t able to have her MMR till 1 year old. I’m in Alberta which is having cases of measles throughout the province. Sure I would like to be able to keep my little girl in a bubble and not take her out and risk infection – I am lucky at least to be a SAHM so do have reduced exposure- but grocery’s need to be bought and Dr’s appts kept etc.

    I also get annoyed by people’s “research”. Have you gone to a library and looked at any medical journals – which will be peer reviewed? Oh, you got your info from the net? Was it a medical journal online? Was it written by a Dr? If not, it’s like getting me (a Recreation Therapist) to build a bridge. It would be socially irresponsible. Go to the experts in that field. They did do 7 years or + of University in that field and do know what they are talking about. As for the “I don’t trust big Pharm”- I would be dead now without my asthma inhalers, my mom would be bedridden in a nursing home unable to move without her meds for her rheumatoid arthritis, my dad would be dead from his heart attack without meds for after his surgery, my father in law would be dead without his insulin. Medications have done good things to everyone’s lives in one way or another.

    Talk to people who have had one of these vaccinated diseases. Ask if they would want to have it again (my mom says no). Towns used to shut down completely -no grocery store, no school, no going to work when Polio “came to town”. We have forgotten what these nasty diseases did to individuals, families and communities. This is because it became very rare with high vaccination rates.

    And don’t get me started on people going out in public/sending kids to school they day after they spent the day or night puking. Your contagious for at least 48 hours after your last symptom (which includes nausea and diarrhea) – the exception being food poisoning. Also one day, take your time in the mall washroom and watch how many people actually wash their hands afterwards, and if they did, how long or well. Sorry, even though it is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of contact transmitted diseases (which several of the immunizable diseases are transmitted through droplets), I do not want to rely on other peoples hand washing to keep my kids healthy and alive.

    That is my rant on social responsibility and vaccinations, with a little bit of a tangent, because I really struggle with the reasoning presented as to why people do not (with the exception of people who can’t due to medical reasons).

  9. I haven’t taken the time to read the full studies, but I just thought I’d throw out there that I believe “vulnerable people” usually refers to those who are immunocompromised or medically can’t be vaccinated for some reason (I have some friend’s whose children have severe food allergies, so they can’t have certain vaccinations because of the ingredients in them. I believe egg is a component in at least one of them … but that’s just my understanding from hearing them speak!) 🙂
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  10. >Does that mean that the parent who did not vax is morally culpable for the death of another child? Should
    >that parent be legally culpable and charged with depraved indifference homicide? Should the parent who
    >lost their child be able to sue the parent who did not vaccinate in civil court if they or their children are found
    >to be “ground zero” for the community’s outbreak?

    Short answers: 1 – Yes. 2 – Yes. 3 – Yes.

    It’s that simple. If some idiot who drank Jenny effing McCarthy’s koolaid causes the death of my child, I should be allowed to take everything they have. Because they are criminally negligent. I’m not talking about people who are unable to be vaccinated because of age, or immunocompromise, or legitimate allergy. Those people need everyone around them to be vaccinated in order to preserve them. I’m talking about the willfully ignorant who are so incredibly stupid that they believe vaccination is wrong. Because it’s not.

    Uh. So yeah, this is a hot trigger topic for me, obviously.

  11. While Patient Zero is increasingly difficult to pinpoint because of the international nature of our society, most of the recent outbreaks (particularly here in Canada) have been definitively tracked back to a single source. It takes time and hard work, but it’s not impossible to do.

    Even historically speaking, back-tracing the spread of disease has been exceptionally effective in discovering where a contagion originates. They were able to do it in 1907 with Typhoid Mary. The technology available to us now it drastically better than it was then.

  12. Well written article! We have two children both of whom are up to date on their vaccinations. However I do not like to refer to myself as pro-vaccine. There are so many ongoing studies about the benefits and harmful effects of vaccinations just like almost everything else in existence today. I have made the choice to vaccinate since years ago when there were no vaccines so many babies and children died from many illnesses that nowadays can be prevented from simply having a vaccine. Also when it comes to vaccines the evidence points more in the beneficial direction than it do the harmful. Now maybe that will change in the years to come. But for now I will keep my decision to continue to vaccinate!
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  13. Misty Lunceford says:

    It is a tough decision. Where do you draw the line when it comes to one’s child. Both sides have the freedom to choose what is best for their child, but is the risk of not vaccinating and risking exposure worth it in the long run. I think along the line somewhere people forgot the horrors of the past when chicken pox wiped and measles wiped out families. They would have killed to have a vaccine. I will keep my child vaccinated and not the run the risk.

  14. I have to say that I’m kind of stuck in the middle too. While I don’t think it’s right to force people into medical care, and while I do understand that vaccines have cause problems for some select children, I guess it falls to ‘the lesser of two evils’ with me. I’d rather see my children and grandchildren vaccinated, than not. It’s a big scary world out there, when you know there are things that could be floating around that could harm your child. What we also need to remember is that new things are developing all the time.

  15. it’s tough! We vaccinate but know people who don’t – we’re not bad parents and neither are they. I think the government forcing ppl to would be a bad idea though !

  16. I think this is a very controversial subject. It’s difficult because some people do not believe in vaccinating their children however I know there are a lot of downfalls about not having the vaccine. These outweigh having the vaccine so I would rather have my daughter vaccinating rather than running the risk of her getting seriously sick with no way of curing her. I would never want to put her in that situation..

  17. I vaccinate selectively. For example the Gardisal shot is not something I will subject my children too. The people I speak with run the gamut of being pro vaccination to none. It’s a hard call, and I guess each family does what they feelis best for their family.
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  18. Those recent outbreaks are really scary. I am glad that my daughter is protected by having her vaccines.
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  19. Oh wow…I didn’t know all of the dangers behind not vaccinating kids…this post was very informational. It’s always a tricky situation when it comes to topics like this. Sometimes, it’s hard where to draw the line…I have a fear of the government forcing people to do things when they are allowed to cross “certain lines”…however, it is important that people do realize all the facts before making any decision that involves young children and health.
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  20. Vaccines are very important for our immune system. But I select vaccines, also.

  21. I never even thought about it when I had my son. I knew I had to vaccinate him! Everyone is getting very carried away by the issue. It’s sad. I respect a parent’s right to choose, but I just would hope they listen to the advice and guidance of their child’s doctor.
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    • I would hope so, too, but considering the number of children not vax’d, it seems that a former Playboy bunny who claims they cause autism because of a debunked study by a disgraced former doctor carries more weight than their own doctor. 😛

  22. A greeat topic!

    And yes, I’m pro vaccination myself. Here in Norway most people do vaccinate their children.
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  23. What a hot topic! I have vaccinated my son and I never ever considered not vaccinating him because I have seen so many children/youth/adults who are disabled for not having their vaccinations. And there are so many deaths every year here in Ecuador because people don’t have money to get vaccinations, or didn’t know/understand to get them.
    But at the same time I have seen children/youth/adults who have been disabled because of the vaccinations. And sadly, even died.
    That is because not all the vaccinations hera are safe or proofed. It’s not so long ago that people in rural areas here were used for human study subjects in new vaccinations. And many people are afraid of getting vaccinations. An indigenous tribe almous died in it’s totality because they didn’t want to get rabies vaccinations, because of former death and disabilities caused in the community by vaccinations.
    I think, that there should also be moral responsability for pharmacist companies/governments in charge of the vaccinations. So, if my son dies or is disabled because the vaccination was not as good as they claimed, at least I can sue them and make sure no one else needs to go through the same thing.
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  24. It definitely is a hot topic . I know some people that do choose to not vaccinate their kids. We do with our kids however.

  25. teresa mccluskey says:

    I am a mother of 2. ages 3 and 2. So mine are crazy with this stuff. I feel like it never ever ends!

  26. Rachel N says:

    This is a very slippery slope and I am sure there would be many many people who would protest and refuse if the government tried to make vaccines mandatory. I do not feel it is the governments place to interfere with our lives in that way. And then they would need to make rules about when vaccines need to be given and if there are any you are able to refuse. What would this do to parents who do vaccinate but on a modified delayed schedule? What about parents who choose not to give certain vaccinations? I also don’t like it when generalizations are made. The “outbreaks” of measles are not what I would call “outbreaks”. A few people in an area contract it and it is called an “outbreak”.

  27. Shaun Hoobler says:

    I haven’t gotten my kids vaccination. We give them lots of vitamins and supplements though. They all grew up healthy and smart.

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