Earlier this week, Rebecca Bredow of Ferndale, MI was jailed for five days for violating a court order to vaccinate her son. The order was issued on September 27 by Oakland Country Circuit Judge Karen McDonald after a hearing in which Bredow fought her ex-husband, James Home's decision to have the child vaccinated. Bredow intends to go back to court in order to prove that vaccines are not “in the best interests of the child”, according to her lawyer, Clarence Dass. Certainly, the concept of the child's best interests is the guiding principle of most family court decisions, but the challenge is determining what that is on a very technical and scientific issue. Adding to the complications is the polarizing nature of vaccines, thanks to contradicting information on the web, as well as celebrities and politicians who see vaccines as an issue of parental rights versus social responsibility.
For the family courts, however, the right to vaccinate or not vaccinate is not so black and white. In most cases, judges are dealing with parents who share custody, and neither parent has more of a right than the other to make decisions for the child's well being. They also need to take into account the current state laws, which allows for religious and medical exemptions from vaccinations. On the other hand, there are U.S. Supreme Court precedents that seem to side with the need to protect the health interests of the many over the rights of the individual. Still, many non-vaccination advocates would argue that the existing legal precedents are antiquated (such as the 1905 ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts), and not based on current research that shows harmful side effects of controversial ingredients such as aluminum and weakened, but live forms of bacteria and viruses.
Personal opinions aside, what is clear is that most parents in NJ choose to vaccinate their children. As of 2015, New Jersey had a pediatric vaccination rate of 95%, with most of the remaining parents raising religious objections, or refusing more controversial vaccines for things like HPV or the flu. Still, that remaining 5% is sure to include divorced or separated parents, who have the right to bring this issue before the family courts. Because of the science involved, judges tend to rely on expert testimony from pediatricians or renowned vaccination specialists. These experts are far better accepted by the courts than representatives from anti-vaccination groups, who are typically not medically licensed professionals.
Overall, custodial parents who oppose vaccinations have a tough road ahead of them. Case precedents generally support vaccinations, and the need to weigh society's interests against those of a very small percentage who appear to suffer from adverse reactions. Thus, it's important to consult an experienced attorney should you decide to fight this in court, regardless of which side of the argument you're on. For more information on your parental rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.