This past week, I had many conversations about the ethics of mandatory compliance with public health policies. Most of these conversations had to do with vaccinations. One of the better rounds of conversations was with a pre-med student who was fresh off a communicable disease rotation. He had told me about how with smallpox, people were forcibly vaccinated. He underscored his own words by emphasizing that he wasn’t using forcible in the dramatic sense, but literally, as in- by violence.

During nearly all of the conversations the topic of subjectivity and experience came up. When my grandparents were alive, they saw people regularly dying from disease. The generation just before mine have lots of left shoulders with half dollar sized scars from smallpox vaccines. So, the families that think that their children should not be vaccinated due the belief of a vague possibility of a nonexistent threat contrasted against my grandparents who were willing to scar their own children so that they wouldn’t have to bury the child later.

The solution to this is one of the few times that my libertarian and socialist views are not in conflict with each other. My proposal:

  1. Let people opt out of vaccinating themselves or their children.
  2. Omit these people from participating in any government program that is by nature social. i.e. public schools.

This is a public safety conversation. Despite media making analogies rife with analogy in this conversation, I feel that I have one that isn’t overly so. In private homes, in most places, it is not against the law to not maintain fire alarms. In public space, in most, if not all places, fire alarms must be maintained. Someone cannot come into a building and request that all fire warning systems are disabled. However, if someone demands that exception is made, it is the prerogative of the owner of that space to decline admission as the exception cannot be made in good conscious to the other people using that space. Those two steps provide both a carrot and a stick for the people who believe they are helping their children by not helping their children.