A measles outbreak in the U.S. has prompted a national debate over vaccinations, a debate that quickly turned ugly because both sides think they are protecting their children from harm. Some parents say that they should have the right to refuse vaccines if they think it is in their children’s best interest, while others argue that ill-informed parental views can be overridden by the State if the public health is at stake. When argued on the traditional battleground, the problem has no solution. As with school prayer, immigration policies, parade permits for controversial groups, or allowing the homeless in “public” libraries, here too there is no way to solve the problem except by letting private property owners set the rules on their land.
When couched in the standard statist framework, there are contradictory principles in the vaccination debate. For example, many parents have read research showing the potential dangers from various vaccines, and they think all things considered their kids will be safer without getting them. They recoil at the idea that the State can forcibly inject substances into their kids’ bodies in the name of the public welfare.
That’s fine, but I’m betting many of those same “anti-vaxx” parents agree with the principle of taxation, and some of them might even be willing to accept the military draft in cases of extreme national emergency. At least for these parents, it seems they don’t actually believe in the principle of the individual rejecting State encroachment. They just happen to disagree with most people on the balancing of the pros and cons of vaccines.
On the other hand, consider the parents (and others) who are outraged at the (allegedly) unscientific, selfish, and anti-social behavior of the anti-vaxxers. For those of this group who think the State should be able to compel vaccinations against the wishes of a child’s parents, I wonder: How far are they willing to push this principle? Should the State mandate diet and exercise routines for the nation’s children? What about religious or political views? After all, parents from religious households might not want their kids’ minds to be “infected” with the horrible ideas of atheism brought into the schools from other children, while skeptical parents might not want their children hearing on the playground that they’re bound for hell unless they repent. Likewise, parents who believe in democracy wouldn’t want their children hearing about fascism from other kids on the soccer team. Certain ideas are far more dangerous than the measles. But most Americans (at least) agree that in a free society, the State can’t mandate particular religious and political views, no matter how harmful those views might be when put into operation.
The only way to address these fundamental conflicts is to take the State out of the equation. Let private property owners set the relevant rules on their land. Privately run schools, daycare centers, youth clubs, and pediatricians can set their individual policies regarding vaccination requirements for participating children. Health insurance companies can decide if they will insist on vaccination in order for a newborn to remain on a parent’s plan.
Private property doesn’t eliminate conflict, but it is a necessary foundation for the peaceful resolution of very heated disagreements. Bringing the State into the picture will hurt all children.