Bioethics for Breakfast: Boundaries: Do Public Health Interests Trump Individual Parent Prerogatives?

Bioethics for Breakfast Seminars in Medicine, Law and Society

bioethics-for-breakfastDean G. Sienko, MD, MS, and Mark Largent, PhD, presented at last Thursday morning’s Bioethics for Breakfast event, offering opposing views on the topic, “Boundaries: Do Public Health Interests Trump Individual Parent Prerogatives?”

Given the recent measles, pertussis, and ongoing chickenpox outbreaks, there are a number of people who have called for expanded authoritarian responses. At the most aggressive end of the spectrum are people who call for laws forcing people to vaccinate (often referencing using the century-old Jacobson case for justification). The Jacobson case was a 1902 Massachusetts case in which a minister refused to have his children vaccinated. But the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the freedom of individuals must sometimes be subordinated to the common welfare. More moderate views call for the elimination of all non-medical exemptions to mandated vaccines. Which approaches are prudent and which might be unintentionally counterproductive? Could efforts to curtail parents’ ability to opt out of mandated vaccines inadvertently feed further resistance? Are there any reasonable compromises that might be forged? The speakers offered their views on these issues.

Dean G. Sienko, MD, MS
Dean G. Sienko is the MSU College of Human Medicine Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health and the Division Director of the Division of Public Health.  In addition Dr. Sienko serves as the Acting Director of CHM’s Institute for Health Policy. The mission of the Institute is to improve the health care available to Michigan residents through research, policy analysis, education and outreach, and support of quality improvement activities.

Mark Largent, PhD
Mark Largent is an historian of science, technology and medicine and Associate Dean at Lyman Briggs College at MSU. His research and teaching focuses on the role of scientists and physicians in American public policy. He has written Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States (2008), Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America (2012), and Keep Out of Reach of Children: Reye’s Syndrome, Aspirin, and the Politics of Public Health (2015).

About Bioethics for Breakfast:
In 2010, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman invited the Center for Ethics to partner on a bioethics seminar series. The Center for Ethics and Hall Render invite guests from the health professions, religious and community organizations, political circles, and the academy to engage in lively discussions of topics spanning the worlds of bioethics, health law, business, and policy. For each event, the Center selects from a wide range of controversial issues and provides two presenters either from our own faculty or invited guests, who offer distinctive, and sometimes clashing, perspectives. Those brief presentations are followed by a moderated open discussion.