Subscribe to Computing Intelligence

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Parents' Rights Revisited

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.


wisefly said...

I don't know if it was brought up before... but what about the right to have children? Should that really be a right? I mean, most of the times, if a child is taken away after the parents are deemed unfit, the child is already beyond saving (mentally or physically). So should parents who have no emotional, financial or intellectual means to support and educate their children really be freely allowed to have 8 or 12?

In any other situation, being in a position to so influence another human being is an earned privilege. So for people who can't even earn that privilege from a society of reasonable adults really be allowed to have as many helpless infants as they want?

Obviously if the answer is "no", then we're on a real slippery slope here... But Daniel here really shouts out that "yes" is not a perfect answer either.

jbrydle said...

Yeah, I've said before that I'd be more comfortable with my libertarian philosophy in general if it weren't for children. Really, if the very existence of children breaks your entire moral framework, you've got some problems.

In most specific cases, I can't bring myself to believe that the government should step in and tell people how they're allowed to raise their children. On the other hand, I do think it's possible to mess your kids up to a criminal extent. I dunno!

If the government has the power to dictate cancer treatments, they can use that very same power to do things like outlaw stem cell research or abortion or whatever - it's a double edged sword. Is it perhaps a regrettable necessity that some children die horribly in order to maintain freedom for all? But that sounds like Jenny McCarthy. Drives me crazy, I really don't know.

Mozglubov said...

In response to both of you, I don't know either. It is issues like this that drives me away from politics altogether... I don't like intractable problems. Still, I keep coming back because they are important to think about.

jbrydle said...

Reason magazine just posted this article which makes an interesting comparison between chemotherapy and drug use.

It kinda clarifies the hypocrisy of supporting government imposition of actions that you agree with, and opposing that of actions you don't agree with. I think we all tend to feel a little like George Bush when he said "it would be easier if this were a dictatorship. As long as I'm the dictator."

Mozglubov said...

That was an interesting article, although I don't think the FDA thing is as straightforward. Having a regulatory body like the FDA is a fairly necessary device to prevent con-men and snake-oil salesmen from flourishing more than they already do, and while it does get hampered behind its own bureaucratic mess a lot of the time, I don't think railing against it is as simplistic as the author makes it out to be. That said, I think he makes a good point about the hypocrisy of the marijuana policy.