Dear the post calvin,
My family keeps belittling me about how I need to vaccinate my children, even though vaccines are inherently non-consensual and I respect my children’s rights to their own bodies. Help!
Their Bodies, Their Choice
Thanks for writing. Your concern for your children’s personhood is admirable and you should not feel belittled for that concern. But your family is right. You should vaccinate your children. Doing so represents no harm to their individuality. In fact, it models the contract between parent and child that a healthy society depends on.
I don’t know how young your children are, but at some point they were newborns. Think about how dependent they were on you. How much of your interaction with them was “consensual?”
Then they became toddlers. You set up plastic barricades to keep them from tumbling down the stairs. You decided what they should it. You began talking to them about values like kindness and generosity. You taught them how to speak.
After that they were ready for school. You decided where your children should learn math, and with whom. You disciplined them when they said something mean about Tommy, whose parents are going through a hard time.
In all of these cases, your intervention in your children’s lives was an essential condition in your children’s personhood, not an infringement on it. In many situations, it is your governance of your children that actually keeps them alive.
What your child eats, when and where they are allowed to ride their bikes, where they go to school—these are all decisions parents make on behalf of their children—for the both their benefit as individuals and for the benefit of the society they mature in. When our parents aren’t willing to accept this fundamental tenet of the social contract, the system falls apart.
The obligation isn’t isolated to individual families. Society, just like your extended family has a stake in your childrearing. Part of your obligation as a parent is to surround your children with social, educational, spiritual and medicinal resources to help them survive. And on the question of the risk-benefit case of vaccines, the answer is astoundingly clear.
Earlier this month, The New York Times and plenty of other outlets reported on a recent study, which included 657,461 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study reached the following conclusion: “The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.” This conclusion reinforces the decades-long scientific consensus, as seen here, here, and here.
Still, for reasons of a perceived causative link to autism, ideological suspicions of modern medicine, or concerns about a child’s self-determination like your own, anti-vaccine sentiment has secured a foothold in cultures around the world. Examples include the Philippines, where over 11,000 cases of measles and 189 deaths have been documented in 2019 alone, or the United States, where New York, New Jersey and California, and Washington have all seen outbreaks, putting 2019 on course to be the worst year for measles in the country in decades.
I hope that this has provided some helpful context to your legitimate concerns about your children’s individuality. I hope that you will see your decision-making function not as a narrowing of your children’s right to their own bodies, but as a necessary condition of their current and future personhood. I hope that you will feel confident making decisions on their behalf, decisions that are informed by the best of modern science and bent toward life and health.
Andrew Knot (’11) lives and writes in Cologne, Germany.