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Resolved: State mandated administration of childhood vaccinations is justified.
This is a topic that is very familiar. Let's see...oh, yes. Lincoln-Douglas November/December 2009 - Resolved: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization. It was a pretty good LD topic where students learned about things like herd immunity and alleged links between certain vaccinations and autism, but I am getting ahead of myself. So let's see if I can find those old files and while I am looking, begin with the Supreme Court case of Jacobson v Massachusetts.
An Introduction to the Philosophy
The Value of Justice and Justification
In my opinion, this particular resolution made a very good LD topic in 2009 and now it is resurrected in PF, slightly reworded and no less debatable. I have mentioned before in these pages, the lines between LD and PF are becoming blurred and perhaps this resolution proves it. The value of justice is very commonly upheld in LD debates and generally is centered on the idea that justice is giving "each his due", be it good or evil and is very closely related to the idea of proportionality. But that is not quite the interpretation one applies to the word "justified". Whereas, we could say, a thing which is just is justified, it carries a much bigger sense that justified means something that is wholly reasonable and legitimate.
What is being Justified?
This debate seeks to answer the question of whether or not state mandated administration of vaccinations is legitimate, reasonable, just or whatever your definition of justified seeks to prove. A few things need to be realized. First, we are dealing with states, as in governments, and second, no particular state is named. That means we are debating the general idea of whether or not such mandates by states are justified and not a specific state or case. This is an important distinction to make because, in general, the rules which determine the legitimacy or morality of state's actions are not necessarily the same as those which determine the same for individuals. It can be argued, for example that parents should have complete freedom to choose whether or not their children should be immunized and it is not a question of state directives. Nevertheless, despite such sentiments, states have another responsibility rooted in utilitarian principles and to understand this requires an examination of some of the philosophical principles behind statehood.
The Conflict of General Welfare and Individual Rights
I think most people have a general concept of what it means when one claims the state has a duty to provide for the "general welfare". It deals with the idea that states have a duty to secure the general well-being of its citizens. On the other hand, we realize that in most legitimate states, individuals have certain rights and privileges. These include the natural rights, which are the inalienable, so-called, God-given rights which no state should infringe (life, freedom, etc) and then there are the liberties which state's grant as a benefit of being citizens of the particular state (the liberty to buy and sell, travel freely, etc). The individual rights then are a mix of the natural rights and liberties granted by the state. There arises in the course of time conditions in which the state's duty of providing for the general welfare conflicts with individual rights and when this occurs, which should take precedence? This is classic LD, when two values conflict which should be considered more important?
The Duties of States
Most philosophers agree, states have a duty to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense of the citizens. The philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, "As long as a number of men, having joined together, consider themselves a single body, they have only one will, which is directed toward the common security and well-being. The forces that move the state are then simple and vigorous; its principles are clear and illuminating; there are not tangled, conflicting interests; the common good is always so obvious that it can be seen by anyone with common sense.”. Modern philosopher Mortimer J. Adler concurs, “The man-made law of the state derives its authority from justice in each of three ways: (1) by the enactment of measures that protect natural rights; (2) by legislation that prescribes or safeguards fairness in transactions among individuals; (3) by regulating matters affected with the public interest for the general welfare of the community.” We see emerging from these philosophies, the idea of the common will which should be seen as the will of the majority; the idea that whatever serves the best interests of the greatest number of individuals should be promoted. This is the basic concept of utilitarianism: maximize happiness for the greatest number of people and so is a consequentialist theory meaning its value is measured in its outcome: the ends justifies the means.
The Defense of the Citizenry
Few would question the duty of the state to take all necessary steps to protect the citizens from an external threat such as another nation or terrorist group determined to damage the well-being of the people. The state's duty to preserve itself and maintain the well-being of its citizens justifies warfare and at times the compulsory conscription of citizens to serve in the military. When a nation begins to draft citizens to provide for the general welfare of the state, those individuals are compelled to comply to the will of the state even though it violates their individual autonomy and freedom of choice. So the question arises, what if the threat was a health threat? Would the state be justified in taking necessary steps to reduce the threat?
In the next few days I will elaborate on this topic in a series of articles.
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