Bioethics Blogs

Autonomy and Autism

In 2000, the United States declared that the measles virus had been eradicated. Yet, within the first week of 2015, there were approximately 121 cases reported in 17 different states. This trend is closely linked to parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.

Anti-vaxxers have many reasons for choosing not to vaccinate their children, especially the high prices of vaccines and the potential health and safety hazards for children. In 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study claiming that childhood vaccinations may cause autism. Even though his study was discovered to be fraudulent and unethical, and his license revoked, many people still believe that there is a link between the two.

Those who are pro-vaccination claim that those without vaccinations put the rest of the population at risk, especially children who are too young to receive vaccinations themselves. Those against vaccinations claim that it is their right to choose.

Yet there is more at stake here than an outbreak of measles or a single person’s autonomy. Anti-vaxxers, often unknowingly, promote the idea that it is better to get sick and possibly die than to have autism. In a recent open-letter blog, Sarah Kurchak writes,

“No matter what other lofty ideas of toxins and vaccine-related injury anti-vaxxers try to float around in their defense, that’s really what all of this is about: we’re facing a massive public health crisis because a disturbing number of people believe that autism is worse than illness or death.”

The measles virus can be deadly. Autism can be difficult.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.