In a recent High Court decision, which saw two girls ordered to take the MMR vaccine against their wishes, Mrs Justice Theis, who presided over the case and made the order, wears her heart on her sleeve, and, we would argue, makes the wrong decision.
The two girls, are aged 11 and 15; one is a Vegan, as is their mother. Vegans are sometimes reticent to use vaccinations as vaccines can contain animal-based ingredients. The girls were both concerned about the MMR vaccine for this reason and did not want to be injected. The case was brought by the girls’ father who though had initially agreed with the mother not to vaccinate the girls said that he changed his mind after learning of the Measles outbreak in Swansea last year and the dis-accreditation of the now infamous Dr Wakefield’s research, which led people to believe that the MMR vaccine could lead to autism and bowel disease.
Mrs Justice Theis took the view that the girls were not mature enough to make the decision to abstain from the vaccine and accordingly ordered that the girls should be injected.
This is a judgement which concerns us deeply. On the face of it, we can sympathise with Mrs Theis’s sentiments – two girls who could be effectively protected from three potentially deadly diseases, sounds like an open and shut case in the context of child welfare. But the decision in our opinion, is extreme. What’s more, it smacks of social engineering.
The chances of catching Measles today is exceptionally low. Although the risk increases if we come into contact with people who’ve visited or come from countries where the virus is still an epidemic, in the UK, the risk of contracting it is still low – and that’s despite an increase in Measles outbreaks in the country (brought on by a slow uptake of the MMR vaccine, post the now discredited research by Dr Wakefield). There have only been two deaths from measles in England, since 2006.
Rubella, often known as German Measles, is a mild illness, unlikely to cause children long-term damage, with the exception of unborn children in the womb.
From a public health (and interest) perspective, it could have been argued, and indeed we don’t know if it was as we have not seen the transcript for the hearing, that immunisations like these are imperative to keep diseases from spreading and that one could suggest there should be a duty on all parents to ensure a child is vaccinated, wherever possible (some children cannot be, due to existing medical conditions, like Leukaemia). However, children like these two girls who decline the vaccine are a minority, which we would argue could easily be accommodated, even in this context.
We also reject Mrs Justice Theis’s view that the girls were simply not mature enough to understand the pros and cons of declining the vaccine. Unless the girls were suffering with mental health conditions or other issues which impaired their ability to reason at the corresponding levels for their age, it would have been terribly easy to provide them with all of the information they needed to make a fully informed choice. It is simply not good enough to suggest that perfectly healthy 11 and 15-year-old girls could not have such information communicated to them effectively, and from there, been allowed to make an informed choice.
The implication from the reports in the news is that the mother was responsible for swaying the girls’ views on this issue, which in turn suggests that the girls were not thinking for themselves, but we wonder whether this should ever have been a point of contention. The father had previously agreed with the mother that the girls should not be vaccinated – for whatever reason, and we cannot rule out acrimonious ones where two parents part company, he changed his mind. Children are continuously influenced by their parents, whether directly or indirectly – to judge upon this, as Mrs Theis may have done, in this case at least, was a distracting perspective from the real issues.
And we feel the draconian measure Mrs Justice Theis resorted to, was outside of her powers in this case, too. The children now face the added trauma of being forced to have a vaccination they don’t want, to suffer the indignity of having their feelings and beliefs thwarted and who will no doubt grow up with a less than pleasant view of the law. And the parents too, will suffer as a result of this ruling. The tension this Judgement creates is there for all to see – one victor, one loser, two very confused and angry children, caught up in the middle.
It would have been far better for everyone had the Order run differently. We would have liked to see the girls being given the chance to equip themselves fully with knowledge on the subject of the MMR vaccine and to be given until their 18th birthdays to make a choice. The case of Joshua McAuley, who was also 15 years old at the time, was a Jehovah’s Witness who refused a life-saving blood transfusion. His circumstances were not dissimilar to the girls’ own. In this case, Joshua declined a blood transfusion after a car accident, and subsequently died. His faith precluded him from accepting blood transfusions.
The similarities of both stories run deep; intelligent children, with beliefs of their own, who wished to make a choice. They are not choices that most parents would want for their children, and they would be alien and anathema to most of us, but in the judicial arena, personal sentiments must be left at the door.
It seems that Mrs Justice Theis, though understandably, let her personal sentiments guide her and in turn, will have put the entire family in turmoil: souring negotiations between the parents, embittering the children against their father, and destroying any semblance of respect the girls had for the law.
Many thanks to Milly Bancroft for pointing us to the court text on the hearing, which you can read here (we did not get to read the judgement prior to posting, but will take a look now….)