Vaccine Choice Canada (formerly VRAN) continues the work of the Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination, started by Ontario parents in 1982 in protest of the Immunization of School Pupils Act, which failed to include provisions for exemption from vaccines for reasons of conscience, or sincerely held beliefs. With the assistance of numerous Members of the Ontario Legislature, and the then recently entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we succeeded in winning an amendment to the Act which guarantees all residents of Ontario the right to conscientious or religious exemption from vaccines for their school age children. The amendment was written into the Act in December, 1984.
A Brief To the Ministry of Health Government of Ontario
The Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination
May 8, 1984
On March 28th several members of our committee met with Dr. Carlson and Dr. Lang to discuss our concerns about the compulsory immunization law in Ontario. They said that they would bring our concerns to those in the Ministry of Health who are responsible for government policy and they agreed that a written statement from our group would also be forwarded to those same officials. We feel that a fair reading of our position might place the current policy in a new light. There was no real possibility for the public to make any submissions before the bill became law, as the law was passed with uncharacteristic swiftness. There was no debate in the legislature and there has been no substantive discussion of this issue in the media in Ontario. We certainly hope there is a possibility for a reappraisal of this law which represents an unnecessary infringement of our civil liberties and another unfortunate interference by the government in our lives.
The Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination consists mainly of parents in Ontario who object to at least one of the vaccinations now required by law. We also have many supporters among those who favour such procedures but who object to the government requiring citizens to give specific medications to their children against their will. We have emphasized our opposition to the compulsory nature of the legislation rather than to the vaccinations themselves and we will continue to do so. For us the question of civil liberties is the most important aspect of this issue. We have, nevertheless, done considerable research into the medical side of this question and we are very concerned about the many negative aspects of such a mass vaccination program. Thus, though our first purpose is to protect the rights of parents to decide such questions for themselves and for their children, we feel we have an additional responsibility to publicize the significant dangers and problems of these procedures to a public which has been woefully uninformed by both the government and the medical establishment.
Thoughts on the Compulsory Nature of This Law
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
William Pitt, Nov. 18, 1783
“Were the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now….It is our error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”
“A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.” John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
The essential feature of a free society is the principle that government is not free to make laws on whatever matter it chooses. There are certain spheres of activity which are the legitimate concerns of government, which we can designate as the legal realm. The content of all laws should be justice or equity, and the principle which applies in this realm is equality. As true government would reflect a real consensus of the governed on those issues, which are properly decided on the basis of each citizen having an equal say, the present form of government by experts and bureaucrats is not even legitimate in the sphere where government should be appropriate. But there are other spheres of activity which must never come under the jurisdiction of government. In these areas the principle of equality is not appropriate at all. The new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the U.S. Bill of Rights, the thoughts of many of the great thinkers of the West, and the traditions of democratic government have all recognized some of the necessary limitations on government authority, where, in general, the principle of equality is not appropriate. They all are critical of laws which infringe on the basic rights of the individual.
They recognize the unique and essential role which human freedom has to play in society today. The freedom and dignity of the individual must be inviolable in a truly free society.
The individual should, therefore, be free to decide questions of conscience and belief. Despite the ever increasing power of the government, there is still significant reluctance to infringe upon this realm by imposing society’s beliefs and cultural goals on everyone. In fact, the entire sphere of human culture – the total spiritual activity of all individuals – does not belong to the jurisdiction of the state. Spiritual, scientific, religious, artistic, medical and other questions of belief, conscience, or knowledge cannot be decided by means of voting or by other majoritarian methods. The human spirit must not be shackled by the state. Only when such questions affect the rights of others, as for example, when a school has a policy of racial discrimination, only then should the state interfere in the cultural realm. One could think of other examples, but in this realm the state should only enact negative legislation. We are not “free” to do just anything. The state can certainly tell us what we cannot do (and especially when it truly represents the consensus of the governed), but it has no business telling us what we must think, believe, read, eat or what medicines we and our children must take. Such imposed conformity is antithetical to the ideals of a free society. The state acts completely illegitimately when, for instance, it compels us all to accept the tenets of a particular religion. And the government acts with equal illegitimacy when it decides what particular medical point of view all individuals in society must accept and adopt. Such a question is in the realm of culture and there are, understandably, a great variety of opinions about which methods are best as there are varieties of opinions on other cultural matters. There is no room in a free society for a state-mandated medical dogma which we all must accept.
No government, of the people or otherwise constituted, is competent to decide such questions for all of us. No government should impose its beliefs and opinions in such a realm on its citizens. When a government, even one which calls itself a democracy, oversteps its bounds and affirms what point of view we all must hold and thus does not allow us to hold competing points of view, we have tyranny. Then it no longer protects our rights but becomes a “Big Brother”. It is tragic how readily we are willing to sacrifice freedom in order to achieve certain goals. But what can freedom possibly mean if we are not allowed to make such decisions ourselves?
If we go back only a few hundred years to the Middle Ages, we find that this ideal of individual freedom hardly existed at all. In many places on the earth today it is still, unfortunately, only an ideal. Yet due to the courageous efforts of many individuals, we in the West have seen this ideal firmly established. In fact, we take these rights for granted.
But there are many people in our society who worry that our civil liberties are being slowly eroded. There are always “good reasons” for abrogating the rights of the individual. The authorities in the Middle Ages had excellent reasons, of course, for denying the right to religious freedom. They were “absolutely certain” (and some still hold this point of view) that whoever did not worship as the authorities saw fit risked eternal damnation. Such a decision was not to be given to the individual to make. Only after tremendous conflict and sacrifice was the freedom to worship as one saw fit (or not to worship at all) finally established. Is it not ironic that what we have given to the individual in the realm of his soul is not now given in the realm of bodily health, which, we assume, does not have much to do with eternal salvation? We in the West wax indignant when we see other governments impose particular religious beliefs or otherwise limit religious freedom. Yet our government, which grants that particular freedom, would impose its medical beliefs and limit the freedom of its citizens to decide on the medical care for their children. As in certain countries today, as in Europe during much of its history, the authorities have decided that we cannot be allowed to make such decisions ourselves. Whatever the justification might be, and again the state has excellent reasons, this is the nub of the matter. The Government of Ontario has made itself the parent of all children with regard to these medical procedures.
We are greatly troubled by the authoritarian attitude which underlies such a policy. Such meddling in the normal affairs of the individual implies a disdain for the ability of the “ordinary” citizen to run his life and care for his children properly, though this is usually not said. Underlying all such compulsory measures is a lack of confidence in the ideal of individual freedom, which is the cornerstone of a free society. Such elitism, arrogance and condescension ill befit the role of public servant. Of course, we realize that there are other motives involved here as well. One is not just protecting the individual from himself. One is also promoting such a program for other ends and we will address this aspect later. Given such attitudes, it comes as no surprise to us that the government has chosen to use the children’s schooling as a lever to force compliance with this law. We find this appalling.
“I know that most men, not only those considered clever, but even those who are clever and capable of understanding the most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic problems, can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty, conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.”
Leo Tolstoy, 1898.
“We would rather admit our moral errors, faults and foibles than our scientific ones. This is because conscience is humble and even pleased with it humility; while reason is arrogant, being driven to despair when forced to recant.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Much has been made of the wonderful achievements of Modern Medicine, but the widely held belief that medical “science” and the medical profession have heaped only blessings on humanity has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Moliere’s assertion that “Most men die of their medicines, not of their maladies” is truer today then in the 17th century. Persuasive evidence is available in the many excellent critiques of the medical establishment such as Limits to Medicine by Illich, The Diseases of Civilization by Inglis, The End of Medicine by Carlson and Confessions of a Medical Heretic and Male Practice by Mendelsohn. All of these critics generally accept the premises of Modern Medicine, but their conclusions about the value of many of the procedures of Modern Medicine are certainly at variance with the party line. But then one only has to read Rene Dubos, the eminent bacteriologist, to realize that the pronouncements of Modern Medicine on such topics as immunization are often unsubstantiated.
The spectacular decrease in the mortality caused by infections during the past century bears testimony to the effectiveness of the measures aimed at eradication of microbes. In reality, however, the role of these measures may not be so great as commonly believed. The toll of human lives exacted by infection had begun to decrease several decades before control measures inspired by the germ theory were put into effect and almost a century before the introduction of antimicrobial drugs. As we shall see, there came into play in Western Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century biological and economic forces that increased the resistance of the social body to infection. Granted the obvious usefulness of sanitary practices, immunological procedures, and antimicrobial drugs, it does not necessarily follow that destruction of microbes constitutes the only possible approach to the problem of infectious disease, nor necessarily the best…
The great microbial epidemics were brought under control not by treatment with drugs but largely by sanitation and by the general raising of living standards. Mirage of Health ( pg. 73, pg. 163)
There are, of course, many other notable critics of Modern Medicine who start from radically different points of view. But these are immediately labeled as “unscientific” by the experts. Modern Medicine has no patience with alternative points of view. It is equally suspicious of anyone who wanders outside the fold, be it only to espouse an opinion which contradicts the current dogma. Those who take the grave risk and openly criticize current procedures or medicines are treated like the hero in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. It is no wonder that one rarely sees doctors who are willing to take such risk and openly deviate from the party line.
This manipulative and defensive attitude on the part of the medical establishment and its experts is one of the great stumbling blocks to achieving real clarity on these issues. Arrogantly using science as a stick, they would discredit all those who oppose their programs as ignorant, emotional cranks, not to mention child abusers and dangers to public safety. “If you only knew what I know..but that would take years of study and research”, is the standard line given to those who question their authority. There is no question, however, that no one knows with certainty whether these procedures are as safe, efficacious, or beneficial in the long run as they are claimed to be. The assertions that one knows that they are of unquestionable value are based on faith rather than on a truly scientific attitude. One so easily forgets the difference between what one knows to be true and what one believes one knows to be true. But the experts are not content with disparaging their critics with this dogmatic and therefore hypocritical scientific conceit.
An added dimension to this condescending attitude of the experts is the amazing but prevalent assumption on their part that they are somehow fit to impose their “benefits” on those who do not want them. They know what is best for all of us. We have heard similar promises before. How quickly we forget the lessons of swine flu vaccine, mandatory chest x-rays, thalidomide, birth control pills, DES, the wholesale abuse of antibiotics in humans and animals (see the current article in the April 23 and April 30 issues of the New Yorker), the scandalous abuse of tranquilizers and other mood altering drugs, etc., etc., etc.,..
One may, nevertheless, still feel that the practice of medicine can be a very positive activity. But no responsible doctor or medical scientist would claim that medical knowledge is a monolithic and immutable dogma. The practice of medicine is, after all, still considered an art despite the many benefits it has derived from scientific developments in many fields. It was surprising to hear Dr. Carlson admit that the value of the compulsory vaccination program is, after all, a matter of judgement. Who should make such a judgement? She also admitted that there are risks involved in receiving these innoculations. Who should decide what risks our children must take? The government has promoted such a program in order to eradicate these diseases completely. The government is convinced that such a goal is worth the risks, but it has neglected to inform the public that there are any risks at all! We feel that this is highly irresponsible. Many people will still be quite willing to give these medicines to their children because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that the benefits outweigh the risks. But the government, in its rush to achieve its goals, has not been candid with the public. It not only lies to the public with its claims that these procedures are “absolutely” innocuous, but it has also imposed its judgement on what dangers our children must exposed to without our consent. This is democracy?
Do the ends ever justify the means? We think not. But one would be a touch more sympathetic, if not supportive, if the government were abrogating our freedom to put an end to some of the real dangers facing us today such as cancer, heart disease, auto accidents, suicide, the common cold etc., – abolishing smoking, mandatory diets and exercise, ban driving (even by government licensed drivers) etc..But the government would take away our rights and shoot poisons into our children’s bodies against our wishes because of six very minor diseases (in Canada, in 1984). In 1980, a total of two people died in Ontario because of all six of these diseases combined; in 1979 none died.
To blame the necessity for such a law on the apathy of those who are not vaccinating their children is a rather strange rationalization. The dangers are not significant. It would rather seem a case of over-zealous doctors than of an apathetic public. But then what will be the next “emergency” which will require a further erosion of our freedom? Will it perhaps be mandatory swine flu shots or maybe mandatory sterilization and abortion (as is now practiced in Asia)?
Frankly we do not believe that the Ministry of Health is really so very concerned with our welfare any more than we believe that all doctors practice medicine out of the kindness of their heart. This particular program, for example, contradicts one of the basic tenets of the Hippocratic Oath: “FIRST DO NO HARM”. Despite the warnings on the package inserts, older children are being forced to have the diptheria shot. Despite the inclusion of exceptions to the law for medical or religious reasons, this is not made known to the public. Although the law states that naturally acquired immunity is as acceptable as the shots, public health officials have harassed those who have proof of such immunity to get the vaccinations. We have heard of cases of such officials threatening immediate suspensions and we know of one case where a high school student who had completed all her class work was told that her diploma would be withheld until she got all her shots.
In our discussions at the Ministry of Health, we were amazed to hear that Dr. Carlson was less than enthusiastic about the pertussis vaccine. This vaccine has been linked with many serious side effects including death. We are not aware that the public or the media have been informed that this particular vaccination is problematical. Nor are we aware that doctors have changed their tune: ” Listen, I give this shot to my own kids. It’s absolutely safe.” Nor are we aware that public health nurses have stopped accusing those parents who are reluctant to give this poison to their healthy two month old babies of child abuse. We can only guess who will be the last to know that this poison is no longer recommended for humans. The medical establishment is notoriously slow at admitting fault and at evaluating its dogma. The recent challenge to the law on silver nitrate applications for newborn children is a case in point. It was reported in the press that the hospital where the law was challenged was making all children wards of the state until they had the eye drops. One assumes, of course, that all mothers would rather risk their children’s eyesight than admit to having venereal disease. Now you can choose which poison to put into your child’s eyes to protect against non-existent disease. We await eagerly the time when officials in the Ministry of Health are less than enthusiastic about this compulsory procedure.
But then the Ministry of Health has shown no enthusiasm to discuss the negative aspect of these and other procedures either with our group or with others members of the public. Those who dissent from the party line are not just chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths and other so-called “quacks”. There are some orthodox physicians and scientists who have expressed disenchantment with the party line on these procedures. Often their concerns are hidden in the many medical journals which rarely reach the public nor apparently many doctors and nurses either. It is the height of hypocrisy to claim to be scientific and then to purposely ignore and to hide all material which contradicts one’s own position. It is tyranny to choose one point of view and foist it on everyone. In this respect the medical establishment bears equal responsibility with an all too gullible government. They both agree that the public is too stupid to know all the facts and make an informed choice.
Given the conflicting opinions, many notable medical failures, and the persistent abuse of many medical procedures, we are astonished at the unquestioning and servile attitude which the public has towards the medical profession. But then this is not so amazing once one considers the similar, unwarranted confidence in the ability of government to regulate and direct so many areas of our lives, despite the long list of its blunders from urea formaldehyde foam insulation to mandatory chest x-rays. We would imagine that from a purely practical point of view, the realization of the limitations of medical science combined with the poor track record of the government in such realms would not inspire confidence in such a program. What possible basis is there for the unwavering belief that this time they will get it right? Will we be looking back twenty years from now at this law as another costly, useless and dangerous government program? And then who will take responsibility? Who will pay the bill? And who will apologize to us and to our children for this outrageous abuse of government power?
In our belief in human freedom and in Jefferson’s thought that truth can stand by itself we are willing to accept the risk that there will always be some in society who are irresponsible and will commit serious errors. But those who do not have such confidence in the individual and who do not really believe in human freedom insist on taking care of all of us for our own good. They run the far greater risk, however, by imposing their “truths” on everyone. For if the government errs and then compels us all to act in a prescribed fashion, then we are all compelled to err. Such despotism has no place in our time.