‘Village’ trumps a few misguided parents on vaccines

By Christine M. FLOWERS

Philadelphia Daily News

When Hillary Clinton repeated the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, a lot of people criticized her for promoting a vaguely socialist philosophy. Many were disturbed by the idea that children could be viewed as communal property and blamed Clinton for undermining the rights of parents to raise their own progeny as they — and not the village elders — saw fit.

At the time, I found the whole controversy a bit comical. Having spent a good part of my own childhood with my maternal grandparents, I was used to being thwacked on the rear by Mike and Mamie’s Italian neighbors when I got mouthy, or being escorted back to their front door and ratted out by the nosy Spillane sisters.

At no time did I rail against this Orwellian West Philly surveillance system. The village owned me as much as my family of origin, and cared as much too.

That’s why I’ve always had a problem with parents who demand unilateral control over their precious offspring, as if they were Ming vases picked up at Christie’s. While I completely support a mother’s right to raise her daughter in the religion of her choosing or a father’s right to monitor the things his son watches on television or is taught in school, I think society has a legitimate interest in and obligation to the welfare of those children.

Child endangerment

Fortunately, the laws generally agree. While an adult Jehovah’s Witness can refuse a blood transfusion for religious reasons, he can still be forced to have his ailing child taken to a hospital and given life-saving treatments that would otherwise violate his conscience. More importantly, parents who think that prayer is enough to rescue their baby from a premature and completely preventable death can be prosecuted for child endangerment and, if the child dies, negligent homicide. Society has balanced the rights of parents against the rights of their little ones and decided that some things transcend custodial rights.

This is not some communist plot to deprive Americans of their parental authority. It is not an illegal incursion on our ability to raise children with our values and according to our preferences. It is simply a recognition that children are not always fortunate in the genetic lottery and are sometimes saddled with loving, albeit dangerously uninformed parents.

We’ve seen this over the past few years with the whole “vaccine” controversy. As someone who was the beneficiary of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, the competing scientific legends whose heroism saved my generation and succeeding generations from the horrors of the iron lung and walking braces, it is inconceivable that any parent would refuse to have their child vaccinated against childhood disease because some loopy blonde celebrity like Jennie Mc- Carthy blames her son’s autism on an injection.

The scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, or that they are any more dangerous than the actual diseases they seek to prevent is almost nonexistent. Andrew Wakefield, the so-called authority whose work was cited as proof that vaccines caused autism (and other disorders) was unmasked as a fraud who manipulated data for economic gain, and his work is completely discredited.

And yet, despite all resonable indicia, some people persist in believing that vaccines are dangerous. I think this has more to do with a vague sense that we need to have complete autonomy over our lives, lives over which the government should have the least amount of control possible. It derives from an almost pathologic fear of being told what to do and when to do it, and has no actual political flavor.

Of course, there are always going to be those who can’t resist the opportunity to take partisan shots. Because of some rather ill-informed comments by prominent Republicans like Chris Christie and Rand Paul, this has now become the “aren’t conservatives idiots?” moment. Clearly, Christie made a giant faux pas when he even suggested that parents could have legitimate opposition to having their children vaccinated.

They can’t. Period.

Bizarre rant

Paul went even further with some bizarre rant about how vaccines have been implicated in children developing mental disabilities, although both men walked back from their histrionics when it became clear that the rest of the world was questioning their sanity. Neither wanted to enter Michelle Bachman land, a place where random people tell you that their daughter suffered mental retardation after she was given a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease.

But just because some conservatives make some stupid and unscientific comments, this does not mean that all conservatives should bear the mark of (Herman) Cain. One of the most prominent conservatives, a man whose medical credentials are unassailable has stated unequivocally that children must be vaccinated. Ben Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon told NPR that “When you have diseases that have demonstrably been shown to be curtailed or eradicated by immunization, why would you even think about not doing it?”

Why indeed. The health of a child is non-negotiable. If a parent’s wishes can be accommodated in pursuit of that goal, fine. But if a parent’s desire to raise that child comes in direct conflict with indisputable science and puts other, particularly vulnerable children at risk, the village needs to take over.

Because child abusers, even misguided loving ones, need to be stopped.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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