Did you know that, in Australia, courts order that a child be vaccinated or given other medical treatments, overruling the consent of one or both parents, and even overruling the child’s own refusal?
Professor Cameron Stewart of University of Sydney Law School recently joined the ABC’s Law Report to look at several cases where courts had ordered vaccination over at least one party’s objections.
In the Randall* case the mother opposed vaccinating the children as she feared “vaccine-related injuries”. The father argued in favour of vaccinating the children for health and social reasons. In the Kingsford* case, the mother wanted the child to be treated homoeopathically, while the father and his new wife wanted the child immunised. The mother applied for an injunction preventing the child from being immunised however the new wife had already had the child vaccinated against a range of illnesses, without the mother’s knowledge or consent.
Cases involving teens aged up to 17 years take into consideration both the child’s views on vaccination and what is in the child’s best interests. In the Kingsford case, for example, the couple’s 15 year old daughter opposed to vaccination not only because she shared her mother’s views on the potential risks involved, but also because she was a vegan and objected to being treated with the animal-derived components used in making the vaccine. Ultimately the judge overruled those concerns, but they were considered in the decision making process.
There is no doubting that each of parents involved in these vaccination disputes want the best for their children; the problems arise when from their differing view about what is in those best interests.
What can parents do to resolve disputes over medical treatments?
So often we are fixated on our own fears and desires, we don’t really hear what the other party is saying; we are just looking for evidence that they are “against” us. Try to put your own concerns aside and really listen to what the other person is telling you. Are they worried and afraid? Do they feel their opinion is being dismissed? What outcome do they want?
2. Identify what outcome you want
Try to think about the outcomes you want on a “big picture” level. Be specific, but not too specific. For example, “I want our children to lead full, healthy lives, and not be excluded from school and social activities” rather than “I want out children to be immunised”. Odds are the other parent has the same goals for your kids.
3. Talk about the future not the past
Once you’ve identified your and their fears, ask questions about the future, instead of focussing on the past. If, for example, you are considering whether a child will have a flu shot, ask questions like “Will she be able to go on school excursions with her friends if she is not vaccinated, or will she be excluded?” and “What are the risks of him getting ill from the flu shot? What are the risks of him not having the shot? Which one is potentially more damaging?”
4. Know when to get help
If you sense the discussion is getting out of hand or you are up against immoveable opposition, try not to let the argument damage the relationship. Suggest instead that you involved a 3rd party to help resolve the dispute. This might mean visiting the family GP together to discuss the pros and cons, holding a meeting with the school, nursing home or day care staff to find out what consequences may flow from vaccinating/not vaccinating, and finally, if you still cannot agree, engaging a mediator to help you work through the options.
*the parties’ names were changed for reporting purposes
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