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Should you be able to sue a parent for not vaccinating their child?

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NBC News - Say you take a family trip to Disney Land and your baby gets measles — perhaps suffers severe complications and can no longer hear or is left with brain damage. Would you want to sue the parents who voluntarily decided not to vaccinate their child, thus allowing the disease to pass to your baby?

It's a growing debate, especially as measles cases in the United States have been rising steadily for the past few years, along with vaccine opt-outs. Should parents be held liable for unvaccinated children, if the decision was based only on a personal belief and they had no medical reason for opting out of their state's immunization requirements? 

“I am absolutely in favor of the idea of vaccination liability,” said Melinda Blanch, a New Haven, Connecticut mother of a 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. “God forbid, I went out with my children and they were exposed to a deadly disease due to someone's else irresponsibility, there would be some sort of price to pay.” 

There's evidence that, among certain geographic clusters, an increasing number of people are simply checking a box or signing a form that vaccination requirements are against the family's personal beliefs — what's known as nonmedical exemptions. Recent data showed California parents of kindergarteners are choosing not to vaccinate at over twice the rate than seven years ago. And a 2006 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found higher rates of pertussis in states with liberal personal belief exemptions. In December, Grand Traverse County, Michigan experienced a whooping couch outbreak. The state, according to public health experts, made it so easy for parents to opt out of vaccinations that Michigan's waiver rate was three times the national median.

“In most states, it's pretty easy to get a waiver and permission not to vaccinate,” said Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, who believes there's too much “wiggle room” for parents to resist vaccinations. In response, Caplan has proposed holding non-vaccinators legally liable for the harm to individuals and communities, as a result of their non-vaccination decisions — when that harm can be proven. Alex Berezow, founding editor of Real Clear Science, recently went a step further and argued that parents who don't vaccinate their children should go to jail. 

“Imposing criminal liability on parents who don't vaccinate would be tough,” Caplan explained, “because the state has given people the right to opt-out of vaccinating their children.”

Read more at Today

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