Last August I wrote about one of the more contentious issues I have brought up on this blog, the right of parents to choose for their children. While I originally brought this up in the context of education and religion, the ongoing prevalence of vaccination 'controversy' necessitates another visit to the issue. Of course, vaccination is not the only aspect in which a parent's choices and beliefs directly affect the health of their child, as in the extreme case of Daniel Hauser. As with the a child's education, I don't know what the best policy would be. In contrast to some of my more libertarian inclined readers, I think I am more on the side of government advocation of treatment.
Essentially, I believe the issue flounders in a moral grey area for two main reasons. The first and most prevalent is the need to balance the rights and freedoms of an individual with the rights of those around him. While Daniel suffers from the non-communicable disease of cancer and his case is therefore not particularly related to this point, in the case of vaccination this is especially pertinent. Many vaccinations are only viable for administration after a certain age, thereby leaving infants and young children with a window of vulnerability. If there is a sizable population of non-vaccinated individuals of sufficient population density (for most communicable diseases, that density tends to be easily accomplished in even a small town of several thousand) they form a reservoir for the disease to persist. An example of this includes continued outbreaks of the measles in the United States through accidental importation of the disease from other countries finding a subsequent toehold in the growing population of non-vaccinated children, with the number of annual cases over doubling in 2008 (thanks Jenny McCarthy!). Therefore, there is the very real argument for a legal obligation to vaccinate one's children against communicable diseases to prevent the creation of a disease reservoir. I am curious what my more libertarian readers think of this balancing act (I'm looking at primarily at you, Mr. Brydle, but I know Cornucrapia leans on the more libertarian side of things than I do as well).
The other major component to the grey area is the right of the child to the best possible chances for a healthy life versus the right of the parents to act as surrogates for their child when making decisions before the child has development his cognitive abilities to a more adult level (this is the aspect that is much more pertinent to the case of Daniel mentioned above). When adults refuse medical treatment for themselves, the government in most cases accepts that. In the case of a parent refusing medical treatment for a child, however, I think the case becomes skewed. It is no longer the person making the decision who suffers the consequences (of course, I do not doubt that the vast majority of parents wish the best for their children, but it is still a slightly different situation).
There were more things I remember wanting to say on this subject, but I seem to be wandering in my attention. I am therefore going to post this as it is now, and hopefully others will volunteer their own thoughts on the matter. If you are interested in a more informed opinion than mine on the matter of public health and the fallacies of alternative medicine, I would recommend having a gander at Dr. Steven Novella's NeuroLogica Blog.