Many common childhood illnesses have been virtually eradicated through vaccinations. Since the early 1800s, scores of vaccinations have been developed and administered to protect children and adults from contracting these highly contagious and often deadly diseases. As harmful and sometimes fatal side effects to vaccinations have become public, whether or not to vaccinate a child has become a major issue, including whether court ordered mandates on vaccinations are constitutional.
In situations of divorce or shared custody of a child, parents who disagree on whether or not to vaccinate their children face an even more challenging situation. In recent cases, the court has supported the parent that chose to vaccinate since there are no known risks that outweigh the benefits of immunization. The courts must also consider at what age a child has the ability or right to consent or refuse vaccination. The maturity of a child over the age of 12 is often considered in the decision making process when the courts are involved.
One of the biggest parental concerns over the administration of vaccinations stems from the theory that vaccinations play a role in the development of Autism. Despite a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2013 that found no link between Autism and vaccinations, the public has serious concerns over the possibility that a link does exist. This controversy has led many parents to question just how safe vaccinations are, and whether they are necessary. The focus on possible side effects to vaccinations has led to many parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children. While no federal laws exist that mandate vaccinations, the laws in many states require that children entering the public school system be vaccinated against many childhood diseases.
While vaccinations are administered to prevent disease and possible life-threatening complications, the courts are facing a dilemma in deciding whether or not the potential for a deadly disease constitutes imminent danger to the child. In addition, the courts must deem whether the parents’ rights to decide against vaccinations put other children at risk of contracting a life threatening condition.
Courts have been reluctant to intervene in situations that do not cause an immediate threat to the child. What they must consider is whether the parent’s decision is going to affect the mortality or quality of life for the child. Should children with acute illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or respiratory conditions receive court ordered vaccinations if the parent refuses them? What about those who oppose vaccinations because of religious or cultural views? Does the court have the constitutional right to intervene?
As the controversy over vaccinations continues, states are pressed to find the answers to these questions. In the absence of federal laws, individual states must come up with clear cut laws that specifically outline their jurisdiction concerning intervention.
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