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The Contender
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Is government mandated vaccination a morally acceptable practice?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/18/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,369 times Debate No: 52888
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (1)
Votes (1)




Government mandated vaccination is immoral because it forces individuals to submit to unwanted treatment.

Accepting this practice would rescind every individual's fundamental role, as the sole owner of his/her self, to make decisions that affect their own body. This practice allows the state to subjectively determine the conditions under which an individual may retain the authority to act on their own conscience or must submit to government decree. Once this precedent is set, there is no objective way to limit the state's ability to curtail individual decision-making as the state may arbitrarily define the breadth of its authority.

My opponent will likely argue that un-vaccinated individuals present a potential threat to other members of society and that forced vaccination is merely an act of self defense. However, no evidence of actually being sick is necessary and no person need be in any real danger before the state may violate an un-vaccinated person's body. To take this position is to effectively criminalize the existence of any individual who chooses to live in a way that is contrary to that deemed acceptable by the state. Under these conditions, anyone can be deemed a threat for any reason, so long as the state declares it so, which is both immoral and tyrannical.


Government mandated vaccines are a morally accepted practice on the basis of saving lives. Government force is acceptable to save lives. While it is acceptable to have mandated vaccines, people who have religious objections or medical reasons can be exempt, and they would be covered under herd immunity which we will cover more later. I would not punish those who do not get vaccinated without a valid medical or religious reason, but I would make them liable for damage they impose on their neighbors. There are good reasons for this.

My first reason as to why government mandated vaccines are acceptable, is because of self ownership. While my opponent believes in self ownership, I do as well. I believe a mandate on vaccines can enhance self ownership in defining property rights to your body, because one can not assign property rights to a virus or a disease. A vaccine erects a barrier to disease, so in many ways it's like a fence. Saying its ok to not vaccinate is like saying you can unintentionally break that fence.

This does not degrade the individual at all, but sets up rules in society that respect third party costs and negative externalities on people. I wish to treat this the same as we treat pollution in society. We should respect and be responsible to our neighbors. Sometimes an indecision can cause unintended harm to people, and people should be liable for that.

There is also a free riding effect with immunization, as people who don't go out and get immunized reap the benefits from people who do. It's not morally right to free ride off of other people and not pay a share of the costs, which can be time or money.

Finally I would wish to say to the people reading this debate, that its morally acceptable to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives, with a mandate on getting immunized. I wish to protect the current levels of immunity and herd immunity for those who can't get vaccinated because of medical or religious reasons.
Debate Round No. 1


A mandate on vaccination would typically imply that there is a credible threat from the government to enforce compliance. When I don't purchase health insurance the government mandate says that I must pay a fine, and if I refuse to pay that fine then presumably they will confiscate my property and/or put me in prison. A government that "would not punish those who do not get vaccinated without a valid medical or religious reason" would not be enforcing a mandate.

If you allow "valid" religious objections to preclude an individual from this mandate then who decides what "valid" actually means? Of course that definition would be handed down by the state, who would be at liberty to define it in any way that they choose. Most importantly, why should some belief in a supernatural being give me a more justifiable objection to being vaccinated than my own conscious determination that I do not want it?

Next, my opponent argues that un-vaccinated people who do end up getting sick should be held liable for damage to others and he further argues that we should "treat this the same as we treat pollution in society." Firstly, a communicable disease is not man made and so no person can be held liable for the mere presence of disease, unlike pollution, which can be attributed to individuals. Secondly, if a non-vaccinated person becomes ill, presumably the only people who might contract the illness would be other non-vaccinated individuals, since if vaccinated people can also become ill, the whole point of that vaccination is rendered void.

If only non-vaccinated people can become ill, then they would all be liable for damages to each other and to themselves. In this case, the only thing that could be different from them just taking care of their own damages, is that someone wealthy could be expected to pay for someone poor. This in itself would be immoral, since they both made the same poor decision and both suffered the same consequences.


The first point I will touch on are religious objections, which are under the constitution's first amendment to free exercise of religion. In states like California, where they expand conscious objection to secular areas, they had just had a recent outbreak of the measles. The CDC has attributed higher outbreaks of measles to personal objections. It's also becoming less and less of an exemption to vaccines, as many of the traditional religious opponents are starting to accept them.

Pollution and Vaccination are similar in their economic applications. They are third party costs and are negative externalities, which the government has an interest in managing, thus morally justifying some form of legal force. That is what I mean by we should treat it like pollution. I agree, a communicable disease is not manmade, however you can easily prevent something like the Measles or Polio by taking the vaccine. By not taking that vaccine you put people who should be under herd immunity at risk by diminishing the effectiveness of herd immunity. This includes newborn infants or people with autoimmune diseases. These individuals can not receive vaccines, because of their medical conditions which diminishes their capability to choose and depend on others to vaccinate.

I think another issue as well are children of parents who refuse to get their child vaccinated. By not vaccinating their child, they put their child at risk for contracting a disease that was easily preventable, and this happens. The child does not make decisions for themselves, rather they have guardians who do that for them. If a girl contracts polio shouldn't the parents claim some responsibility for that?

The anti-vaccine sentiment has produced more outbreaks of diseases on to people who don't have the choice to get vaccinated. I believe saving people from hospitalization and in some cases death is right, and I think negligence of this is not a fair to the people who don't have a choice. Hence liability.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent has failed to address the biggest issue with religious objections: a person who claims belief in a higher power and who can convince the government to recognize that belief is given a higher authority to make personal decisions than an identical individual who claims only to have made the decision for him/herself. This position openly advocates for a class system, in which religious individuals are given higher standing and this is morally abhorrent.

My opponent then claims that diminishing the effectiveness of herd immunity is an act of aggression against those individuals who depend solely upon herd immunity to not get sick. This position implies that newborns, people with autoimmune diseases, religious objectors, etc. have a fundamental right to depend on herd immunity, whereas anyone who does not fit the appropriate state determined criteria do not. Again, this position advocates for a class system in which certain individuals with specific characteristics are given higher standing, which is morally unacceptable.

The consequences of individuals or parents of children choosing not to vaccinate can indeed be quite harmful. Indeed, it is the consequences of non-immunity that drove humans to develop vaccines in the first place and so the consequences themselves play a valuable role in society. If an individual/parent chooses not to vaccinate, for whatever reason, and someone becomes ill then two things will happen. First, if the person survives the ordeal, s/he will have proof that getting the vaccine might have been a better choice. Second, everyone around that individual will likewise be able to rationally discern that vaccination could have prevented an illness. Forcing people who don't want vaccines to take them will only entrench resentment and will spread distrust, whereas allowing people to make rational decisions based on personal experience will serve to reduce the number of individuals who irrationally refuse vaccination.


I did address the issue of religious objection, and had stated the first amendment requires we have that exemption. Just because you may believe something doesn't mean you should have the right to put your community at risk by being negligent. We have to make exemptions for people who can't possibly get them, that has nothing to do with a "class system", it has to do with medical opinions. Most religions now accept vaccines anyways, so I see the exemption as becoming non existent. I also mentioned the consequences of extending that same courtesy to secular objections, which have caused outbreaks of measles in California.

The Government has laws that do mandate vaccines for a reason, and has had them for a while. You talk consequences, so let's talk about consequences of mandated vaccines, and how many lives they save. You can not ignore the immense benefit to everyone, including the individual. Sometimes a person can not survive an ordeal, sometimes they die or are disabled for life. Parents not vaccinating their children puts them at harm, and the government has a moral obligation to protect people that are within guardianship of others. You are definitely right on both points, however we can easily prevent this from happening.

Forcing people to take vaccines has been going on forever, and resentment has never occurred until recently with the pseudo science of the anti-vaccine movement. Public Health is traditionally a government function that should be maintained as it benefits everyone. It's a very small cost, and a huge benefit.

My opponents also seems to ignore negative third party costs, and positive third party benefits. Individuals who do not vaccinate benefit off of those who do. Some decisions made by individuals affects third parties.
Debate Round No. 3


Yes, you wrote the words "first amendment to free exercise of religion" but yet you completely disregarded my point that it is illogical and immoral that one person may lawfully object to vaccination because s/he says the magic words of "I adhere to X religion and I don't want to be vaccinated" whereas another identical person may not lawfully object by only saying, "I don't want to be vaccinated." There is no quantifiable difference between these two individuals aside from a stated belief, and to assign higher decision-making stature to the religious person is by definition creating two separate classes of people.

Let's do talk about consequences of mandated vaccinations. You mention repeatedly the people who have benefited from vaccines, and indeed there are many, but what about those people who have had extremely adverse reactions to vaccines? It is not pseudo-science to acknowledge that there are real and quantifiable dangers associated with vaccines and it is not always possible to determine if a person will suffer an adverse reaction before administering the vaccine. Under your forced vaccination system, it is entirely possible that someone will become sick or even die from taking a vaccine that they did not choose to take. A list of cases in which the government has compensated people for vaccine related injury/death can be found here:

You are in essence saying that it is morally acceptable to forcibly endanger non-exempt people, with sickness or even death, so that exempt people may benefit from herd immunity. You say that vaccine mandates "have been going on forever" and that "resentment has never occurred" until peoples' minds were corrupted by pseudo-science. So, none of the family members of the over 3,500 individuals who suffered verified injury ever resented the vaccine mandate? Right.

No one other than myself has the right to roll the dice on my well being. I am not society's lab rat.


Those people that could have adverse reactions to vaccines would be covered under herd immunity and medical exemptions. However if people do get sick or die from the vaccine that could still happen without the mandate. There should be further safeguards in assuring the safety of the vaccines through the medical providers. I'm sure those family members would resent that. Also 3,500 individuals is also a very small amount compared to the millions of people now using vaccines. It's also important to note that private companies are making these vaccines even more effective than ever before, and science continually improves them making them safer.

I said the religious exemption is simply because of the constitution. The court has ruled more of a complicated standard for deciding whether a belief is sincere or not when determining religious discrimination. Like I said the expansion of personal objections caused an outbreak in California that hospitalized several children.

You can definitely roll the dice on your well being, however you can't put others in danger. You also didn't mention the positive externalities that people without valid medical reasons gain from people who also vaccinate. The issue of free riding is still something to be addressed with vaccination. I think that you shouldn't reap the benefits of those who are vaccinated and are responsible with their well being, unless you have a good reason.

You are also saying its morally acceptable, to be irresponsible and violate other people's right to a safe body. Disease spread is not a party to party issue, it's a community and third party issue, that should be dealt with. You can't ignore the third party costs, and to do so would be irresponsible for those in society.
Debate Round No. 4


If I get sick and/or die from taking a vaccine that I consciously chose to take, the consequences are mine and mine alone to take responsibility for. If someone else forces me to take a vaccine that harms me, then I have been violated. You may be willing to sacrifice any number of people so long as some perceived greater number receive benefit, but that is beyond the pale of a philosophy of liberty. You no doubt would willingly throw your neighbor's firstborn into the volcano if you thought it would save the village, because it's for the greater good and the state MUST do what it can, no matter the individual cost.

The fact that you refuse to personally address the faulty logic of the religious exemption and merely wave your hand at the Constitution or "[t]he court" further demonstrates your blind admiration of the state. The highest of all courts ruled in favor of the Fugitive Slave Act too, and upheld the Japanese internment camps. I guess we should just accept their decrees without thinking for ourselves shouldn't we?

I "can't put others in danger"? So I can't drive on the road, or hire someone to fix my roof? Right. Danger is one thing, actual harm is another. If I crash into someone on the road then I am responsible for my actions. Willingly placing myself into a population of un-vaccinated individuals and accepting the possible outcome of that decision is not equivalent to crashing into someone. Yes, some of those people would love to take the vaccine and can't, but you cannot claim the right to sacrifice my free will and potentially my health simply because you think these people got the short end of the stick.

You say I "can't ignore the third party costs" but yet you ignore the first party costs. I do not advocate for being un-vaccinated, but simply acknowledge that people have the right to make their own decisions. It is in fact you who says it is morally acceptable to violate peoples' "right to a safe body", not me.


In every case I don't support government intervention when the actions are contained to ourselves or the fellow party we're doing business with. However we have issues that extend to third parties who don't voluntarily agree to such actions that individuals decide to take or not take. People who have autoimmune don't agree to someone taking a risk that could kill them. Newborns do not choose that same risk. Children of their parents do not choose to get polio because a parent was irresponsible. I'm supporting that people who do not vaccinate should be liable for their actions.

The economic argument is strong as well. Why should people who don't vaccinate reap the benefits of the costs that I had to incur on myself to be responsible, and why should people be allowed to commit negative externalities if they wish. There is a moral and economic argument for government to mitigate these third party costs.

My opponent would disregard a clear public safety issue for a personal objection that has been proven to put lives at risk. The government has a responsibility to ensure public health is maintained through the CDC. The CDC's research on personal objections to vaccines supports my arguments.

We also already have mandated vaccines in this country, and the benefits have been huge. We now are safer and healthier because of a simple shot available to us as children. While we are children, we are mandated to receive a flu shot when we enter school, unless we have an exemption. It is your responsibility to get vaccinated, and the government is simply blocking a third party cost on other people. To me its morally ok to keep the public safe from disease, because that's one of government roles.

The question you have to ask yourself readers is whether you want to save lives, or you wish someone to be irresponsible and harm others by not getting vaccinated. I would rather save lives.
Debate Round No. 5
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by aaronmmcevoy 7 years ago
In response to Ameliamk1:

The premise of my argument is that it is not morally acceptable to mandate vaccination. To say that "it obviously i[s]" and use that as your basis for voting the way you did is disingenuous to the concept of debate. You also say that "Con provided no evidence against" the morality of forced vaccination when in fact that was the center point of my entire argument.

Your response is even more perplexing in that you "don't think government should mandate vaccination" but you believe that it is "acceptable from an ethical standpoint". Why is it then that you don't think government should enforce a mandate if it is morally acceptable to you?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ameliamk1 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: I was planning a full RFD, but the debate quickly came down to the term "morally acceptable". While I don't think government should mandate vaccination, that is a world of difference from whether it is acceptable from an ethical standpoints, for which it obviously it, and for which Con provided no evidence against. Simply put, Con condemned himself with his proposition.

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