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A recent news story described a newborn being taken away from her mother shortly after birth because of the mother's refusal to accept a Hepatitis B vaccine. In my law practice, I also hear stories from time to time about newborns being vaccinated in the hospital after birth without the parents' permission and against the parents' wishes. Most of the time, these kind of problems are avoidable with a information about your rights and some common sense preparation.
The mother whose child was taken away had planned a home birth, and made the mistake of not having a contingency plan, a "Plan B" in case they ended up in the hospital, as some planned home births inevitably do for one reason or another. Once in the hospital, they refused the Hep B vaccine, but not in a manner consistent with their state's legal options. Sadly, we don't have the right to decide what goes into our and our children's bodies, at least not absolutely. As disturbing as that be to many of us, it's the legal reality. So, if you're expecting a baby, find out what your state's vaccine requirements and exemption options are!
These may vary from state to state, so go to an authoritative source—a site that posts the actual laws (links to three such sites are here (www.vaccinerights.com/exemptions.html), or to your local or state health department (call them or go to their website). Non-authoritative sources such as anti-vaccine websites mean well, and they often have great information about vaccine health concerns, but they also often misunderstand and misrepresent exemption rights and procedures, and some have lost rights by relying on them. Where legal rights are concerned, if it's important, it's worth getting right the first time.
It's not only important to know the law for your own sake, but because many people on the other side of the fence misunderstand the law and your rights, too. For example, North Carolina has health department regulations allowing parents up to three months to get their newborn his or her first Hep B vaccine. You don't need an exemption to say "no" in a NC hospital at the time of your child's birth, at least according to the law. However, I was once contacted by a new parent who said she was threatened by a doctor with having her baby taken away from her right after birth if she didn't get the baby vaccinated. So, we need to know our rights to be able to defend against, and counter the abuse of, the medical community.
Why would a doctor do this? Well, in addition to being among the all-too-common narrow-minded pharmaceutical salespeople that so many doctors are, the truth is that most professionals have a legal requirement to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, and that could include any parent who is not in compliance with the law with respect to their children. The woman referred to above whose child was taken away? She was, essentially, attempting to exercise a philosophical exemption in a state that had only medical and religious exemptions.
So, by politely refusing the Hep B vaccine, she was, in effect, declaring herself to be a legally neglectful parent (yes, one can become legally "neglectful" as an unintended side-effect of being a more intelligent and informed parent <sigh>). The hospital social worker really may not have had a choice, if she was to adhere to the law strictly, but to take the mother's baby away. I'm not suggesting that the social worker could not have cooperated with the new mother, I'm saying that at least technically, the social worker's actions were probably legally correct and defensible. Maybe reprehensible as well from a common sense point of view, but legally correct. In fact, if the social worker hadn't taken the baby away, she might have put her own job at risk. Such is the insanity of our present society.
So, how do you avoid situations like the one described above? First, regardless of whether or not you are planning a home birth, you should plan for a hospital birth in case you end up there. Second, you should take steps to exercise an exemption, document it in writing, and make sure that everyone has a copy in advance of the writing. For those planning a home birth, have the document ready ahead of time in a hospital bag so that if you end up rushing to the hospital unexpectedly, you don't have to take time to look for it or worry about forgetting it. In short, put it in writing, use some common sense, be prepared.
There's one more potential complication with birth vaccines, that being that many exemption laws are written in language that contemplates school enrollment. There probably aren't many exemption laws written specifically for refusing the Hep B vaccine for newborns. So, you may have to improvise a little. Do what the law says for school exemptions, or write a statement consistent with one or more of your state's exemption laws. If you have doubts, or if you have to explain your religious beliefs opposed to immunizations, consult a knowledgeable attorney, as there are pitfalls to avoid that you won't catch with a "common sense" approach. If it's important, it's worth doing right.
One final comment: The insanity referred to above? We have the power to fix that, to change the world. There are two basic parts to this. First, learn all you can about the science and the law, the propaganda and your current rights. Second, take steps to preserve and expand your right to free choice. This means becoming legislatively aware and active. Laws are being passed to restrict access to vaccine exemptions and to enable children to consent to vaccines.
Many of these laws are unconstitutional—but legislatures pass them anyway. If we don't make our voice heard loud enough and soon enough, we will all soon be required to get more and more vaccines with little or no right to say 'no.' If this is not acceptable to you, join the NVIC's Advocacy Portal (www.nvicadvocacy.org), and the Pandemic Response Project's mailing list.
The above is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be legal or medical advice.