Monday, March 12, 2012

PF - Vaccination Topic - Justification and Burdens

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Resolved: State mandated administration of childhood vaccinations is justified.

This is the third part of my analysis for this Public Forum Debate topic so if you have arrived at this page without first reading the other parts, click here for part 1, and here for part 2.

The Meaning of Justified
In part 3, I would like to dig into the Pro and Con advocacy and help you try to understand what I believe is the principle focus of this debate. The goal of the debate is to show that the action is either justified or not justified and so it reasonable we understand and establish a definition of justified.  A simple dictionary definition will tell us that justified means to prove a thing is "just, right, or reasonable". This is very broad. "Just" suggests a legal basis, "right" suggests a moral basis, and "reasonable" suggests a rational or common-sense basis.

The Legal Aspect of Justification
Typically, laws are designed to restrict unwanted behavior in societies, like a list of rules saying don't do this or don't do that.  But certain laws dictate specific things that must be done.  These are legal obligations or mandates. It seems bizarre, therefore to claim, a certain law mandates compulsory immunization and because it is a law it is legal, therefore it is justified. It seems intuitive the legal justification for mandating vaccinations must find its foundation in a natural law, not a man-made law. The natural laws arise from nature and reason and are the so-called God given laws. Positive laws are the man-made laws of societies and it is generally understood that most positive law is grounded in natural law principles. Nearly all of the great philosophers have issued commentary of the place of natural laws and natural rights. For those who wish go deeply into the subject I can suggest the following source as a starting point:

The Moral Aspect of Justification
Something that is "right" is morally good or ethical. One can easily understand that moral behavior is often culturally defined and something considered "right" in one place may be abhorrent in another.  Additionally there may be situations in which a culture considers an action moral and the same action in another situation may be immoral.  Nevertheless, that is not an objectionable argument in the context of this resolution because the resolution specifies "states" and a state can be presented as a self-governing society bound within certain geographical borders.  So a state is a collection of similar individuals with common ideals and goals who have agreed to bind themselves together under a common government for the good of all.  So it is not unreasonable to see that a sort of collective morality can emerge from such an entity.

The Reasonability Aspect of Justification
Certain things just make sense whether mandated or not, whether considered moral or not.  For example, it just makes sense to cooperate with people when disaster strikes.  Reasonability is the mechanism that many philosophers believe that people use to understand what are the natural laws and what is moral.  It arises when rational, thinking people come to the understanding that certain things are desirable for all. Things which supersede cultures, religion and even formal education.

The Pro Burden
Clearly Pro must prove the administration of state mandated childhood immunization is justified and while both sides can uniformally agree on the definitions of "administration" and "state mandated" and "childhood immunization" only Pro can establish a justification for the act.  Therefore, the method behind the justification will very much depend on the definition chosen for justification.  Is it based on reasonability, natural law or morality or some combination of these?  Regardless, of the chosen definition, the case must convey the message that not mandating childhood vaccinations would violate the fundamental principle upon which you are trying to establish justification.  Therefore it makes sense to choose principles which are universal, transcultural, and desirable by all.  Certainly the desire to live without the threat of debilitating or lethal disease is one of the those principles however that alone will not win the debate unless you can prove that mandated childhood immunization is the key to achieving the principle.

Perhaps I am making the Pro burden overly complicated but I can envision a two-part advocacy for the Pro. Foremost, the establishment of a universal principle of justification and secondly firmly establishing that without the mandate, the principle can not be adequately upheld.  One possible approach is establish a philosophical framework for justification through definitions and observations and then proceed with the task of establishing mandated childhood vaccinations as the means to achieving the justification through normal contentions, evidence and logic.  I think Pro will have an easy time with the data, evidence, statistics, etc.  The problem will be the link to justification.  Perhaps that will be clearer when we look at the Con burden.

The Con Burden
In general, I think Con has a much broader ground than Pro but that does not mean Con is going to have an easy time in this debate.  Pro can bring a lot of good scientific evidence to bear in support of her position so if Con allows the debate to become a war of statistics or studies, there will be big problems for Con.  It seems reasonable to think Con's principle focus should be upon the ethical difficulties of compulsory immunization while diminishing the impacts of Pros advocacy.  The ethical difficulties of mandatory immunization are centered in personal freedom which can be a compelling natural rights framework. One of the problems Con will face is not knowing what kind of framework, Pro will build so it will be difficult to make direct attacks unless Con is very skilled.  A reasonable tactic to establish a (potentially) competing framework in support of the Con advocacy that natural rights must  not be infringed by positive laws.  Con's case would then focus on directly showing how public health mandates violate those rights.  Con should not stop there, however.  Remember, Pro will need to prove that such mandates directly support their own principles of justification.  Since it may be very difficult to go toe-to-toe trying to refute the Pro evidence, it is better to attack the link between Pro's mandate and its justification.

Cautions for Both Sides
No matter which side you happen to fall under after the flip of the coin, I think you must be extra vigilant to make direct attacks on the framework and links which form the foundation of the opponent's case. Do not rely on your own case to carry the day without making strong attacks directly on the opponent.

For Now...
I have felt a certain urgency to put this article out there for debaters as soon as possible, but I feel after several days have passed and looking at the topic a little more fully I may have additional comments which I will share.  For sure I may have more to say about variations on the different advocacies which I recall from the LD topic was debated.
Happy research PFers.  This can be a very interesting topic.  I will come back to this page in the next day or so and post links to specific evidence <Click here>.


  1. I have always found LD case files and evidence to be in abundance, but there has always been an unexplained scarcity of the latter for PF. You and this blog have solved that problem for me and countless other PF'ers many times over. Thank you.

    1. You're welcome. It is encouraging to know I am benefiting the debate community.

  2. Is Autisim really linked to vaccines?

    1. I leave that question for the individual researcher to decide. Certainly the claim is made and denied. There are many reports which can be found on the web, originating in popular media and research studies which address both sides of the controversy.


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