Former President & CEO, INTEGRIS Health

Freedoms and Common Sense

Published in The Journal Record
February 11, 2015

There was a time when airline passengers could smoke on airplanes.  In those days when a Southwest Airlines flight was announced it was a matter of first come, first served for seating.  The non-smokers would push and shove to get close to the head of the line in order to guarantee themselves a seat as forward as possible.  If you were unlucky enough to get a seat immediately in front of the smoking section it was as if you were in their midst.  The stench and smoke coming from the rear of the plane were suffocating.  We have now taken away the rights of smokers to indulge during airline flights.

These days no one really cares whether you prefer to drive without a safety belt…it’s against the law.  Similarly, you have a legal risk when you choose to drive without automobile insurance.  While we have great freedoms in this country, we have decided freedom is not absolute.  I have the right to say whatever I want as long as I don’t slander another person or yell fire in a crowded theatre.

It is in this context that we now view the whole controversy over vaccinating children against measles.  The outbreak of measles in this country raises a question of our rights as individuals versus those of our community.

Hospitals face this controversy every year over how demanding they should be in requiring their employees to receive a flu vaccine.  When a housekeeper can infect a nurse simply by riding in the same elevator, and the nurse in turn can infect the patient, hospitals have chosen to be very direct and firm with their employees.  For most hospitals the policy is that choosing not to be vaccinated is the same decision as choosing not to be employed.

Politicians of all stripes are staking out territory on whether to require all children to be vaccinated for measles, or whether it should be an issue of parental choice.  What gets lost in the debate is not whether the government can require your child to be vaccinated for their personal safety, but whether you choose to expose other children to this virus by your decision.

We have great freedoms but they do come with a responsibility for just a modicum of common sense.

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