Bioethicist Art Caplan, Ph.D. of New York University has argued that parents of unvaccinated children should be held liable for illness or death allegedly caused by their unvaccinated children. This article rebuts Caplan's position, and explains why liability should fall, if with anyone on this issue, on him, for the deliberate or negligent use of his academic status and authority, supported by false information, to promote a flawed vaccine policy resulting in avoidable vaccine injury and death.
Dr. Caplan's primary premises, for purposes of the parental liability question, are essentially that: 1) Unvaccinated children put others at risk, 2) Unvaccinated children, as such, cause actual harm to others, and 3) Non-vaccinating parents know these first two premises, and should, therefore, be held liable for the harm caused by their failure to get their children vaccinated.
I. The Real Ethical Issue
Dr. Caplan's concern puts the cart before the horse. He has missed the target, a far more fundamental ethical question underlying his position, by mistakenly assuming that parents who refuse vaccines for their children are necessarily negligent for doing so. But the matter is not nearly so simple. Given the medically and legally established fact that vaccines cause permanent disability and death, no parent can be reasonably categorized as "negligent" for choosing not to vaccinate their child. The real ethical question, then, is not whether or not parents should be held liable for their choice not to vaccinate, but instead, whether or not parents should be required to place their children at risk of vaccine injury or death in the first place. This seriousness of this question is underscored by the fact that the risk for any individual child is indeterminable, and the presumed benefit to the vaccinated child or others is only hypothetical--by definition, because vaccines are a treatment given to a healthy person to protect against a future hypothetical exposure to disease; and additionally because exposure to a disease doesn't necessarily mean that the exposed child will become ill or spread a disease. Put more generally, the more pertinent ethical question here is:
Who, if anyone, should risk their life for the sake of a hypothetical future benefit to others; and when and for whom, if ever, should doing so be mandatory?
Assuming that vaccines work (a flawed assumption, since 90-95% of infectious disease decline preceded vaccines, some vaccines temporarily reversed preexisting declines, and outbreaks routinely occur in highly vaccinated populations), this more fundamental ethical question concerning vaccine injury and death is, at best with regard to Dr. C's parent liability issue, one on which reasonable people could disagree. On that basis alone, Dr. Caplan's parent liability issue crumbles to dust. But we've only scratched the surface. Since 90% or more of vaccine adverse events are never even reported, according to the CDC, FDA and AAPS--more than 99% according to former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, we have no idea what the true scope of vaccine injury and death really is. Clearly, then, there's no objective basis for mandating vaccines at all (let alone holding anyone liable for not vaccinating), because no one can tell you if they provide a net benefit to society, let alone if they are safe for *your* child in particular. So again, for this reason, we don't even reach Dr. Caplan's parental liability concern.
Add to this the documented corruption in the pharmaceutical industry and government health agencies, and Dr. Caplan's issue just fades further into oblivion. For example, in 2011, the non-profit corporation Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs obtained information through the Freedom of Information Act revealing that the CDC deliberately withheld data showing that autism rates in Danish children dropped when mercury was removed from vaccines, and then fraudulently promoted a study falsely claiming that vaccines do not cause autism. Also in 2011, Dr. Poul Thorsen, a researcher hired by the CDC to organize studies refuting the vaccine-autism connection, was indicted on 13 counts of fraud with the CDC and 9 counts of money-laundering, bringing into question all of his work with the CDC (and Dr. Thorson was one of the authors on the fraudulent vaccine-autism study). In 2008, Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School, after serving as editor of the New England Journal of Medicine for two decades, announced: "It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines." Finally, In 2012 and 2009, Glaxo and Pfiser got $billion *criminal* fines respectively; criminal and civil fines in the $100's of millions are common in the pharmaceutical industry. So, the vaccine controversy cannot be reduced to the simplistic parental liability issue Dr. Caplan asserts. Life and quality of life should never be bargained away via this utilitarian formula: "Risk your life now so that someone else *may* benefit in the future," but that's exactly what we are doing with vaccine mandates--and to innocent newborns and other children. In the real world, where fake facts are invented and real facts suppressed to serve private and political agendas, and where this is documented in both industry and government, our governments should never be permitted to impose a life-threatening therapy on anyone. (I do not mean to suggest that everyone in industry and government is corrupt; quite the contrary, I believe very few people are, they just happen to be concentrated in key decision-making positions of industry and government.)
Look - there's no 100% safe option. Life is, by definition, unpredictable. Both vaccines and infectious diseases can injure and kill. But in the absence of adequate data to enable a credible comparison, Dr. Caplan lacks a legitimate basis for raising the question about parental liability altogether. But even if vaccines were proven to provide a net benefit, the ethical question about whether or not any given parent should be required to risk sacrificing their child for the benefit of the community remains valid. Many of us would, given the opportunity and complete information, would opt to take reasonable steps to protect others, and those steps could include vaccinating. That's fine, if it's an informed choice. But just as clearly, others would refuse. Both are ethically defensible positions.
The only civilized response to the broader vaccination question, given the reality of vaccine injury and death, and the absence of data on that as well, is to allow all parents to make informed choices based on what they believe is best for their child. If government is to be involved at all outside of emergencies, it should conduct independent research to bring further clarity to the issue. For example, a current bill pending before Congress now would require a study comparing autism rates in vaccinated and non-vaccinated populations. The only reason such research hasn't occurred to date is, of course, is the risk it poses to the $ billions in pharmaceutical profits from vaccines (predicted to increase by 12% annually for the next several years ), and the further and additional erosion of pharmaceutical profits that would come from the precipitous drop in childhood chronic diseases as vaccination rates plummeted once the findings in such studies were publicly released. But even if such data ultimately favored vaccines, it would still not justify mandating that every child risk his or her life for a presumed benefit to others, especially when the individual risk is indeterminable and the benefits hypothetical. Finally, Dr. Caplan's suggestion of parental liability looks absurd when you consider the documented alternatives to immunization that are more effective, a fraction of the cost of vaccines, and that don't pose a risk of disability or death.  Why should anyone ever be penalized for doing something that is better than vaccines, in place of vaccines? The answer is that the alternatives are not profitable for the pharmaceutical industry, and therefore, awareness of them is actively suppressed; and that currently, these are not legal alternatives to mandatory vaccines.
II. Legal Contradictions
Next, there are fundamental legal problems with Dr. Caplan's position. First, the extent to which non-vaccinating parents are exercising legal exemptions (which likely comprises the vast majority of non-vaccinating parents), Dr. Caplan isn't qualified to address the matter authoritatively, as this is a legal concern. But it doesn't take an attorney to see that holding someone liable for exercising a legal right makes no sense. By implication, then, Dr. Caplan is suggesting that we repeal all non-medical vaccine exemptions. But what does it mean, legally, that 48 states and all U.S. territories and federal jurisdictions have opted to provide philosophical and/or religious exemptions? Legislatures are presumed to have considered whether or not the exercise of an exemption would pose a significant health risk. Indeed, they are ethically obligated to engage in such investigations, and given the competing pharmaceutical interests, you can be sure that they did. If, in so doing, our legislatures had determined that the exercise of an exemption would cause any significant health risk, they would not have enacted the exemptions in the first place, since the only Constitutionally required exemptions are medical exemptions. Accordingly, the enactment of a statute providing a vaccine exemption carries with it a legal presumption that the exercise of the exemption does not pose a significant health risk, as a matter of law. Dr. Caplan not only misses the obvious - that one can't be held liable for complying with the law in the exercise of a vaccine exemption - he stands apart from and opposed 48 state legislatures whose non-medical exemptions do not pose a significant health risk to anyone, as a matter of law - law that is based on these legislatures' own scientific investigations. Given that all U.S. legislatures share Dr. Caplan's pro-vaccine stance (all have enacted vaccine mandates), this puts Dr. Caplan at odds with an overwhelming percentage of his pro-vaccine allies.
III. False (or Fraudulent?) Support
Finally, Dr. Caplan bases his position on false and misleading information. In particular, Dr. Caplan recently asserted that:
1) "Vaccines are 92 - 95% effective."
The CDC says that vaccines are 85 - 95% effective, and that the majority of disease outbreaks occur in vaccinated children. The flu vaccine, which Dr. Caplan also discussed but did not distinguish from other vaccines with regard to efficacy, is only 60% effective according to a recent Lancet study, and even that figure has been refuted by medical experts and peer-reviewed medical studies. Even the CDC admitted, last year, that vaccine exemptions were not responsible for recent pertussis outbreaks.
2) "Newborns have no immunity."
This is misleading. Historically, mothers passed protective antibodies to their infants through breast milk that these mothers acquired from their own childhood illnesses. In more modern times, mothers lack natural antibodies to pass on to their infants due to their having been vaccinated as children (since vaccine immunity, unlike natural immunity, is only temporary). So, if newborns are vulnerable, we have vaccines to thank for that. But today's infants lack of immunity doesn't mean that these divine little beings should be required to risk injury or death from a vaccine. There are other more effective, safer, and less costly ways of dealing with infectious disease concerns.
3) "We must have a 90% vaccination rate to protect the community (presumably per the widely accepted 'herd immunity' theory)."