Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gov. Haley Does the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

SC Governor Nikki Haley has vetoed a bill that would have provided HPV immunization to all seventh graders whose parents did not explicitly decline. Her reason, according to her public statement, is that it would lead to "another taxpayer-funded health care mandate."

Her analysis is correct.
Her objection is incorrect.
Her veto is correct.

Before attempting to override the Governor's veto, the General Assembly ought to consider why she ought to have vetoed.

Indulge me for a moment while I state a belief that cannot be repeated too often: a child is not property -- not of the parent, not of the state. Any public debate that seeks to establish who "owns the child" is misguided and inevitably leads to harmful decisions.

The proposed law would have authorized the immunization of every seventh grader, unless a parent or guardian chose to opt out. This is the wrong way around, not because the parent, as opposed to the state, owns the child but because the parent is the only individual who has a natural interest in the welfare of the child, to the exclusion of all other children save siblings. Parents are held legally accountable for decisions that bring or permit harm to a child, whether or not the intent was malicious. Any action by the state to improve the welfare of a child should be contingent on the express consent of the child's natural or legal guardian, except when there is sufficiently compelling reason to override parental consent.

Does this mean that all immunizations should be optional? In my opinion, no. The efficacy of immunization in stopping the spread of crippling and killing childhood diseases, not to mention the worldwide eradication of smallpox in the 20th century through mandatory immunization programs, convinces me that the collective benefits outweigh the individual risks in most cases.

This has not been established in the case of HPV. The long term risks are not yet known and the public health benefits of immunity to but one type of cervical cancer are questionable at best. I see no reason to bypass the default option of leaving the child's welfare in the hands of the natural guardians, the parents. This is why Governor Haley ought to have vetoed the bill and why the General Assembly should rewrite it before attempting to pass it without her consent.