Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Moral Obligation to Vaccinate

Rate this topic


brian0918
 Share

Recommended Posts

Washington Post article using altruism as an argument to vaccinate against H1N1. I have gotten into a debate on a Skeptics mailing list regarding this issue. How do you judge my arguments?

Even if it were relatively safe (obviously nothing is 100% risk free), there is still an incentive for me to avoid unnecessary treatments. In my case, I judge this to be unnecessary. If I had children, I may get them vaccinated, or ask anyone I love who is in a high-risk demographic to get vaccinated, but I have no moral obligation to anyone else.

You're wrong. When you deliberately perform an action that places the well being of others in jeopardy, then you are committing an immoral act. The relationship a person has to you is irrelevant. There is no moral hierarchy with regards to vaccinations. What you are essentially saying is that if you contract H1N1, and infect someone else, and they die, you bear no responsibility for their death so long as they are not kin or friends. That is an incredibly selfish position to take on an issue as critical and controllable as this pandemic.

And as far as the safety of vaccinations is concerned, when you consider the sheer magnitude of suffering that we have prevented through our vaccination programs, and contrast that to the few occasions in which there were complications, the positive outweighs the negative by an enormous measure.

I am not threatening anyone with force, nor forcing anyone to do anything against their will. No rights are violated, so no immoral act occurs. Your same argument could be used to tell me I should not be driving on the road, or performing any other act.

The relationship to me is the only relevance. If someone is of no value of me, I by definition have no moral obligation to them. To place their lives at a higher value than the risk involved in any act is to sacrifice my values for the values of someone else - namely, the immoral act of altruism.

If you take the classic example of a stranger drowning - I may still assist them if I judge myself to not be placed in danger. This is not a moral obligation, though, but a sense of life issue. I personally would save them, to encourage people to help eachother in such emergencies, which ultimately has a positive effect on myself and those I value.

"That is an incredibly selfish position" - agreed. The only sound moral system is one rooted in a person's values.

I will repeat again - were it risk-free, which of course is impossible, I still have no moral obligation to take it.

Now in the case of an plague-level emergency, where my having and spreading the disease is like my having a machine gun and unloading it in a public square (in terms of fatality risk) - there can be no doubt that I should be quarantined.

Edited by brian0918
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I contract any type of disease and someone else gets it (someone who had the opportunity to get a vaccine), then why would I be at fault?

By the way this government handling of the vaccines is ridiculous. Massachusetts is mandating that the vaccine must be taken by law, and other states are doing the same for those who work for the government. This, for a flu that is milder than the last two seasonal flus according to CDC epidemiology. There's also epidemiological evidence that children under 2 don't benefit from flu vaccines, nor do people over 70, yet the government is encouraging older people to get them.

I hate the whole idea of the government being involved in my health, and it should be kept to a minimum, even though I recognize the government may have a right to quarantine people at certain times. Where do we draw the line? I certainly do not think it should be a flu. Especially this particular flu, since previous flu strains have killed many more people. My girlfriend's brother had to be quarantined and he missed his midterms and ability to work on important projects at architecture school--he had to stay at home and play video games while he recovered from a mild sickness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't understand. Why force someone to get vaccinated from swine flu? If the argument is "because you could give someone the flu!" then why don't you get vaccined? If you don't want the flu, you get a vaccine. Then you're immune, right? Then why force me to get one?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the replies. That's basically what I said in my most recent response from a couple hours ago:

If a person at great risk of death from infection, such as the one you describe, chooses not to get a vaccination, that is their choice and they accept the responsibility for their actions, just as I do for my choice not to be vaccinated. It does not become the responsibility of strangers to vaccinate in order to avoid infecting people who choose not to vaccinate.

The best part of this discussion, for me, was that the individual sought popular opinion regarding the definition of morality, which, as I pointed out to him, should be fundamentally contrary to his supposed skeptical nature:

This is the moral system that originated with the mysticism of Plato and was spread by Christianity. Not to mock anyone, but one would think as a skeptic you'd learn to question everything, including the "most commonly defined" moral system.

:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't understand. Why force someone to get vaccinated from swine flu? If the argument is "because you could give someone the flu!" then why don't you get vaccined? If you don't want the flu, you get a vaccine. Then you're immune, right? Then why force me to get one?

The vaccine doesn't make you immune, it merely reduces your chances of getting it.

The reason given (as to why government seems to be aiming to gain the power to force people to do it) is that, if a large enough percentage of people are vaccinated, that makes the spread of the disease less likely (or stops it completely).

Which is true (that is indeed how you stop an outbreak), but the way they suggest we achieve that is nonsense. The best bet would be to allow the marketplace to create and distribute these vaccines. In the case of a real emergency, and with a vaccine that works well enough to matter, the demand would be there, people would pay for and get the vaccine voluntarily.

In this case too, the "interests of society" are served by allowing individuals to act in their own interest, based on their own judgment. When we have a government that refuses to even consider that option, the result is a mess, with huge overreaction for a virus that is a relatively minor threat, and massive suspicion and opposition from people who naturally hate being told what to do by petty thugs.

That said, there's no reason to think there's anything wrong with the vaccine, so if someone is at high risk and prefers to avoid it, it could be moral to try it. (depending on what your doctor recommends, because I don't know how effective it actually is, anyway)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with most of the argument here, particularly Jake's. A person has no moral obligation to get vaccinated. I do have to strongly disagree with the following statement.

If I contract any type of disease and someone else gets it (someone who had the opportunity to get a vaccine), then why would I be at fault?

In such a case, you potentially are at fault. The fault would not be related to your choice to vaccinate, it would be related to whether you knowingly exposed another person to a pathogen or not. You have a right to refuse precautions and get sick. You do not have the right to intentionally expose others to infection risk.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're wrong. When you deliberately perform an action that places the well being of others in jeopardy, then you are committing an immoral act. The relationship a person has to you is irrelevant. There is no moral hierarchy with regards to vaccinations. What you are essentially saying is that if you contract H1N1, and infect someone else, and they die, you bear no responsibility for their death so long as they are not kin or friends. That is an incredibly selfish position to take on an issue as critical and controllable as this pandemic.

And as far as the safety of vaccinations is concerned, when you consider the sheer magnitude of suffering that we have prevented through our vaccination programs, and contrast that to the few occasions in which there were complications, the positive outweighs the negative by an enormous measure.

I think this guy is not totally inconsistent with what you're saying. If you know you're carrying a terrible disease, you do have an obligation not to threaten other people's lives. Unfortunately, this guy is saying you're deliberately performing the act...of not acting to get a vaccine. Grammatical failings aside, there is such a thing as a sin of omission, and if by going about your daily business as if nothing was wrong when you are infected you get someone sick, I'd say you're at fault. But what he doesn't appreciate is that in such a case the primary beneficiary of a vaccine is the person getting it, not "society". There's an externality involved, since if enough people got the vaccine it'd stop the disease among the general public, but the primary benefit is still individual, and no one has a right to force the vaccine on someone who doesn't want it. That would be saying "you have a moral obligation to pay, for my benefit".

Now, on a technical level, the virus in question (to my knowledge) is not exceptionally more harmful or prevalent than other viruses of its class (influenza), and the attention it has been getting borders on paranoia, like just about everything else nowadays. Remember SARS? Yeah, no one hears about that one too much anymore, but it was a real threat in the week that the news was parading it around as the next manifestation of doom and destruction.

I'd probably have responded to the statement that "morality is commonly defined as altruism" that the commonality of the definition says nothing about its validity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In such a case, you potentially are at fault. The fault would not be related to your choice to vaccinate, it would be related to whether you knowingly exposed another person to a pathogen or not. You have a right to refuse precautions and get sick. You do not have the right to intentionally expose others to infection risk.

So, your premise is that one should take precautions for those that don't take precautions against their own risk?

Can one state that everyone that gets exposed gets infected?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, your premise is that one should take precautions for those that don't take precautions against their own risk?

Can one state that everyone that gets exposed gets infected?

Can one state that everyone who gets shot dies? And yet, if you shoot someone and he dies, that's murder. The idea that the method used has to be 100% efficient, or it's not a crime, is the wrong one.

His premise is that an infectious disease will likely infect people, and his conclusion is that if you are aware of it and go out in the world, that's an intentional act of transmitting the disease. If people are infected, that was intentional on your part, even if the method you chose to infect them wasn't 100% efficient. I see no fault in that logic: if you're not allowed to go pigeon hunting with a machine gun in Manhattan, you also shouldn't be allowed to go around carrying a dangerous infection (not that swine flu qualifies).

Obviously, none of this applies to vaccines: not taking a vaccine is not an action, so it's not a violation of rights. So, Brian, that is the argument which would defeat any claim that you're hurting someone by not taking the vaccine. Good luck explaining that to an altruist, who's gonna blame you for non-action all day (not helping dying children in Africa is the moral equivalent of murder to him).

Edited by Jake_Ellison
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, getting a vaccine doesn't even really help anyone except the person getting the one vaccinated. If enough people get it, sure it can help block an outbreak, but for the most part it only benefits the vaccinated person. If getting a vaccine prevents you from contracting a disease, for a vaccination to be a moral obligation (to not spread the disease), someone else must not have fulfilled their own moral obligation (if everyone is vaccinated, the point is moot because you can't spread the disease to anyone anyway).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

SD26, No my premise is that if you find yourself in a situation where your body is shedding dangerous biomatter it is immoral to intentionally expose others to it. Whether you could have prevented your own situation is irrelevant. Whether they could have taken precautions to prevent the danger your body exposes them to is irrelevant. An intentional act that exposes others involuntarily to risk of injury or death is immoral. Refusal of a vaccine is not immoral because the risk is to you. The morality of a refusal of a child's vaccination is debatable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

His premise is that an infectious disease will likely infect people, and his conclusion is that if you are aware of it and go out in the world, that's an intentional act of transmitting the disease. If people are infected, that was intentional on your part, even if the method you chose to infect them wasn't 100% efficient. I see no fault in that logic: if you're not allowed to go pigeon hunting with a machine gun in Manhattan, you also shouldn't be allowed to go around carrying a dangerous infection (not that swine flu qualifies).

I wonder what should qualify as a dangerous infection. I think it should be contextual--you probably should get prosecuted for knowingly having the swine flu and then knowingly walking into a hospital ward of sick babies.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...