Dec 29, 2017

Religion is no excuse for anti-vax nonsense

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Peter Kurti
The Daily Telegraph
Decembef 28, 2017

ATTEMPTS by anti-vax campaigners to invoke religion as a way of dodging vaccinations for their children is an excellent example of the limits the state rightly puts on religious freedom.

Claims by the Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network (AVN) that some vaccines contain “the proceeds of abortions” has been turned into a so-called ‘right’ to deny inoculation to children.

And now that some taxpayer funded childcare allowances have been stripped from parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, the AVN is claiming entitlements on the basis of religious freedom — saying that the use of vaccines containing foetal material violates the teaching of pro-life religions such as Christianity.

The Australian Medical Association has slammed the AVN’s arguments as “irrational” and “unscientific”. Vaccines protect children, says the AMA. Few would disagree.

Australia committed to upholding religious freedom when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1980.

While the ICCPR is not directly enforceable in Australia, its provisions inform various state and federal laws that are concerned with protecting individual freedoms, such as religious liberty.

But the right to religious freedom is never absolute. It can’t be used to overturn laws and policies that are directly concerned with the public good.

For example, section 18 (3) of the ICCPR explicitly allows for religious freedom to be restricted in the interests of “public safety, order, and health.”

In other words, the greater public good takes priority — and must always take priority — over the preferences and predilections of the individual religious believer.

Many ‘anti-vaxxers’ believe that diet, herbal remedies, and alternative therapies are much safer for their children than conventional vaccines — all in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The eradication of so many diseases that were at one time commonplace, and often life-threatening, is a tribute to the advances made by medical research.

Some people do react badly to vaccines; from time to time there is a so-called ‘adverse event’ which can be life-threatening. But for the most part, vaccines are safe for everyone.

No individual should ever be forced to take medication against their will. And although it involves the health and wellbeing of another individual, parents should be free to determine what kind of health care their kids receive.

But sometimes, religion and science do conflict: for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse the transfusion of all blood and blood-related products for themselves and their children.

However, when religious belief leads to conduct that threatens the health of another, or the health and wellbeing of the wider community, the state is entitled to step in and set limits.

Parents opposed to vaccines for themselves or their children should be free to make those choices — but they need to accept there are consequences of such decisions.

The state is right to forbid unvaccinated children from attending childcare centres or schools; and it is right to withhold taxpayer funded benefits when those decisions threaten public health.

Anti-vaxxers who say they are entitled to do — and receive — whatever they please, and who plead religious freedom to justify their choices, are making a mockery of the hard-won freedoms enjoyed by the rest of us.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and the author of The Tyranny of Tolerance: Threats to Religious Liberty in Australia.

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