Megan McArdle’s post on the resurgence of measles due to a lack of vaccinations prompted me to think about the modern moral and legal ramifications of someone choosing to go about unvaccinated.
When a person becomes infected with a lethal contagious disease, the disease microbe turns their body into a biological warfare factory churning out billions of weapons which automatically seek out and attack other people. If a person infected themself on purpose and then went about their daily life, we would regard it as a form of lethal violence against everyone they came in contact with. How then should we regard those who fail to take simple, cheap and low-risk steps to prevent such an occurrence by accident?
Before we understood that microbes cause disease and developed techniques to stop them, we regarded infection as an act of God for which no human could be held accountable. Now we do understand how to prevent infections and we do hold people accountable for not doing so. If food or health care providers do not follow basic sanitation procedures to prevent the reproduction and spread of microbes they face civil and criminal penalties. It doesn’t matter if they did not intend to infect people. It only matters that they did not take precautions against it. Why should we hold unvaccinated individuals to a lower standard?
I think we only did so in the past because we lacked the ability to determine if individual A infected individual B. Now we can. It’s only a matter of time before someone seeks legal redress for the preventable death of a loved one based on the premise that a voluntarily unvaccinated individual was negligent.
We might even reach the point where society demands that people who may turn into biological hazards without warning visually distinguish themselves. Why should a parent have to unknowingly expose an unvaccinated infant to an unvaccinated adult in a public setting? An unvaccinated person is hundreds of times more likely to carry a lethal disease than a vaccinated one. Shouldn’t such an individual have to notify others of the risk they pose?
We don’t think about such matters because vaccination has made fatal communicable illnesses rare and freakish events. As more and more people in the developed world shun vaccinations and more people from the unvaccinated developing world arrive here without disease screening, we will see more and more outbreaks. When people see their children die from an easily preventable cause, they will get mad.