Ethicist: Why Jim Carrey is Wrong About Vaccines

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By Arthur Caplan

California has decided one large epidemic scare is enough. After the frightening outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland and sickened 147 people, Californians rejected the irrationality of anti-vaccine zealots and decided to restrict parents’ ability to exempt their children from school vaccinations.

The new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown throws out religious and philosophical reasons to exempt. Only health concerns will be permitted and those must be verified by a physician. If you simply don’t want to vaccinate your kids, you will have to home school.

The new law is all to the good. No major religions have heartburn over vaccination. Most see it as an obligation in order to help the community. And philosophical exemptions were nothing but an open door for those who are ill-informed, addicted to misinformation on the internet or just plain selfish.

Philosophical exemptions were nothing but an open door for those who are ill-informed, addicted to misinformation on the internet or just plain selfish.

The childhood vaccine schedule has been proven safe, and arguments about "dangerous" ingredients have been proven incorrect over and over.

Two states already have laws almost the same as California—Mississippi and West Virginia. Mississippi has among the best vaccine rates in the nation. Parents there seem just fine with only a health exemption.

Liberty is a key value for Americans, as critics of the law now are noting. But they ignore the fact that liberty has to yield when using it puts others at risk. So, just as speed limits protect you and me from reckless drivers, and mandatory car seats and seatbelts protect kids careless parents, mandating vaccination protects kids from lousy parental choices.

The actor Jim Carrey is one of a small number of anti-vaxxers who is beside himself at the passage of the tough new law. He has tweeted out to his 14 million twitter followers that the decision to protect the community from measles, mumps, whooping cough and flu is fascism. Not only is Carrey ignorant when it comes to vaccines, he is a fool when it comes to using terms like fascism.

Fascism is when a government imposes its will upon the people by fiat. Nothing like that has happened in California—not even close. The legislature heard testimony, debated and then voted through the law to end liberal exemptions. Passing a law through the legislature and having the governor sign it is called democracy!

Democracy turned out to be very good for public health in California this week.

Arthur Caplan, PhD, is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and the founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics in NYU Langone Medical Center’s Department of Population Health. He regularly contributes to NBC News.

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