Philosophy and Morality of Mandatory Vaccinations

Recently I was engaged with a debate on social media about vaccines. Don’t act surprised. I rant a little and get off on a tangent in this post. Fair warning.

The person I was discussing with was making the argument that parents should be allowed to make medical decisions for their children with no oversight from government entities. They were strongly against mandatory vaccinations for children that are able to be vaccinated. I disagreed and gave a particularly chilling example:




There exists a large community of parents that believe in something called CD Protocol or MMS. This community believes that many childhood ailments can be treated by creating or purchasing the CD Protocol/MMS supplements and administering it either orally or via enema.

“CD” stands for Chlorine Dioxide and is a postcursor of Sodium Chlorite. This is mixed with citric acid to produce the “MMS” compound… which is essentially a type of bleach.

There is a large community of parents that mix their own bleach and make their kids drink it or funnel it inside of them via forced enemas. 

Generally at the concentrations used, it only causes mild internal chemical burns generally no more severe than a stomach-ache. Higher concentrations or continued use obviously cause severe injury or death.

There is no medical benefit to this. It is a quack treatment created by someone with no medical background to sell a product.

I asked my opponent “Do parents have the right to do this?

This process usually only causes mild, temporary injury and discomfort. It is potentially deadly in the right quantities. It is done entirely with the best intentions at heart.

Most people would agree that parents should not be allowed to give bleach enemas to their children.

What about parents that withhold vaccinations from their children based on a mistaken belief in the risk? 

When considering this, also consider that withholding vaccinations may cause illness in both one’s own child and others. These illnesses are more severe than stomachaches. It may also result in crippling injury or death.

My opponent waxed philosophic and declared that was just my belief.

Objectivity would state that there are certain qualifiable and quantifiable universal truths that lack individual bias.

Rationalists would say that there are universal truths that can be reasoned out and proven axiomatically.

Subjective truths, however, do exist. Relativists would say that there is no objective truth as all knowledge is based in part on preconceived notions of fact which may one day be disproven. Most other philosophers would giddily debate this until the heat death of the universe. Since we have real jobs, we have to settle for something less perfect.

In the case of medical interventions, one must determine the line between objective and subjective truth. As these are shared throughout a society, it is incumbent on the society as a whole to determine what is an acceptable criteria for an objective truth.

In the modern 21st century, objective truth is decided based on scientific consensus. This is the best we have discovered as a species in order to qualify what we know to be true. If the consensus rules that something is true, it’s true to the best knowledge we have. Sometimes we learn more about our universe and that causes the consensus to change. That changes our concept of objective truth. Some people have difficulty with this and feel that scientific consensus is a subjective truth based on beliefs rather than objective fact. This is how fringe belief groups start. These individuals believe that scientific consensus is founded on belief rather than cold examination of the facts. This is how evolution and climate change get demonized as religious beliefs rather than as a scientific truth.

Recently I was listening to a lecture regarding NASA trying to qualify what life on another planet could be defined as. Could we have living rocks? How do we really define life?

As an example for this discussion, consider the very idea of “life.” As best we understand and agree, life generally starts at a certain biological point and ends at a certain biological point. Most scientists can generally paint an area where most people are happy. That’s still somewhat subjective but it’s the best we have. As an objective measurement, scientists say x, y, and z must happen for something to be alive. As a subjective measurement, everyone gives their input to establish societal norms, denotative, and connotative meanings for what it means to be alive. They line up fairly well for most people so we accept that in society.

As best we know, vaccines are both effective, safe, and provide the best hope for our species to survive disease. That’s objective. It’s one of the most heavily studied areas in all of medicine and is easily qualifiable as one of the single greatest advancements of our species based on human population growth and mortality rates. We’re pretty solid on vaccines. We’re so good at it that individuals have the luxury to create their own subjective beliefs regarding it. As a society, we have not yet reached the point where the objective benefit of vaccines is mandated as a protection of the society.

We are given a choice whether or not to protect ourselves and our children. Many opt not to based on an incorrect belief. Similar to the parents that practice the “CD treatment,” the best intentions can end in a dangerous situation for children. Is it moral to allow this as a society? Is it moral to restrict parents from committing these acts that they do in good faith even if the result may horrify us? I don’t know if I have the answer to that.