“No vaccination, no service:  Some SC pediatricians turning away kids for parents” decisions”

This article recently published in the Greenville online news caught my attention, given the implications such decisions could have to both doctor and the child’s parents.

In this article a two-month old baby was taken by his parents to the pediatrician for a well-baby check-up, only to be turned away because the doctor has grown intolerant to parents who claim they know best for their child.  The parent in question in this story did not want the pediatrician to give multiple immunizations, at the same office visit.  Not an unreasonable request by this particular parent, given some parent groups who strongly cling to the belief that immunizations cause autism spectrum disorder and other similar maladies, resulting in the refusal to have their children vaccinated for any diseases.  It is important to note that some parents refuse to have their children immunized because of their religious beliefs.  Each of these protective measures raises distinctly different legal issues.

In the first category of parental protection, a refusal stating: “I don’t want my child to get multiple vaccines on one office visit,” appears a manageable problem for any pediatrician.  A blatant refusal to treat a sick child at age 2 months could give rise a claim of medical malpractice for abandoning a sick child, although the refusal to see such as child would have to result in some injury to the child, which is not likely given the other treatment options available in today medical society.

Turning to the second category of parental protection, a refusal sating: “I refuse to allow my child to have any vaccinations because I am convinced they will permanently damage my child’s brain;” there are serious ramifications, including the prospect of the doctor notifying child protective services.  After all, most States require all adults (not just doctors) to report known or suspected child endangerment to Child Protective Services agencies.  The battle lines will be drawn along the boundary between the science/studies which are claimed to prove that immunizations don’t cause harm and the reasonableness of parents who believe otherwise. 

In the recently published book, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, the author Jamie Metzl captured this precise conflict:

When 147 mostly unvaccinated children were infected with measles in 2015, after exposure at Disneyland, the children’s parents were roundly condemned for putting hundreds of other kids in danger.  While anti-vaccination advocates argue they are doing something natural by not vaccinating their children for communicable diseases, it is hard to argue they are actually doing something good.  Vaccinations have saved millions of lives since the first smallpox vaccine was introduced in 19th century England.  Repeated studies around the world have clearly proven the safety and overwhelming individual and communal benefits of vaccination.  Nevertheless, irrational and uninformed fears of vaccines have persisted.  In recent years celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carey and Donald Trump have raised scientifically unsupported claims about the dangers of vaccines that have fueled a quadrupling of the number of unvaccinated U.S. children since 2001.

Science will prevail and unless parents can properly support their decision making with reliable and trustworthy science, parents may well be held accountable for the refusal to vaccinate their children.

In the third category of parental protection, a refusal stating: “I don’t want my child to get any vaccines because it is against our religious beliefs;” has been argued by parents as “religious freedom” and courts have found that the child has a right to life and health, regardless of the parents concern, especially in very clear circumstances where emergency surgery is needed to save the life of the child.  It is much easier for courts to require parents to protect their children from immediate threat of harm or death, where for example, emergency surgery is required for a ruptured appendix. 

In 2018 an Oregon couple were sentenced to six years in prison on criminal charges related to the death of their newborn daughter, when they refused to obtain medical care based upon their religious beliefs.  This couple are the fifth set of parents from a faith-healing church to face criminal charges over the past nine years for failing to seek medical care for their children.

Having raised four children long before the latest studies on immunizations were completed demonstrating that there is no health risk to children who receive vaccinations, I know the dilemma concerned and loving parents grapple with every day.  Stay informed.  Knowledge is power and it takes evidence based knowledge to protect our children.