Personal Liberties versus Public Harm

Paul Levy

First posted 7/18/11 on Not Running a Hospital

David Ropeik, about whose excellent work on risk perception I have written¬†before, recently offered some additional perspectives on the issue of vaccinations — making us think about the cost of personal liberties to public harm. He wrote¬†this Op-Ed, entitled, “Public health: Not vaccinated? Not acceptable,” in the Los Angeles Times. The subheading is: “What should we do about people who decline vaccination for themselves or their children and put the public at risk by fueling the resurgence of nearly eradicated diseases?”

Here are some excerpts:

What does society do when one person’s behavior puts the greater community at risk? We make them stop. We pass laws, or impose economic rules or find some other way to discourage individual behaviors that threaten the greater common good. You don’t get to drive drunk. You don’t get to smoke in public places. You don’t even get to leave your house if you catch some particularly infectious disease.

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