by: Alan Phillips, J.D.
July 24, 2012
A recent news story described a newborn being taken away from her mother shortly after birth because of the mother’s refusal to accept a Hepatitis B vaccine. In my law practice, I also hear stories from time to time about newborns being vaccinated in the hospital after birth without the parents’ permission and against the parents’ wishes. Most of the time, these kind of problems are avoidable with a information about your rights and some common sense preparation.
The mother whose child was taken away had planned a home birth, and made the mistake of not having a contingency plan, a “Plan B” in case they ended up in the hospital, as some planned home births inevitably do for one reason or another. Once in the hospital, they refused the Hep B vaccine, but not in a manner consistent with their state’s legal options. Sadly, we don’t have the right to decide what goes into our and our children’s bodies, at least not absolutely. As disturbing as that be to many of us, it’s the legal reality. So, if you’re expecting a baby, find out what your state’s vaccine requirements and exemption options are!
These may vary from state to state, so go to an authoritative source—a site that posts the actual laws (links to three such sites are here (www.vaccinerights.com/exemptions.html), or to your local or state health department (call them or go to their website). Non-authoritative sources such as anti-vaccine websites mean well, and they often have great information about vaccine health concerns, but they also often misunderstand and misrepresent exemption rights and procedures, and some have lost rights by relying on them. Where legal rights are concerned, if it’s important, it’s worth getting right the first time.
It’s not only important to know the law for your own sake, but because many people on the other side of the fence misunderstand the law and your rights, too. For example, North Carolina has health department regulations allowing parents up to three months to get their newborn his or her first Hep B vaccine. You don’t need an exemption to say “no” in a NC hospital at the time of your child’s birth, at least according to the law. However, I was once contacted by a new parent who said she was threatened by a doctor with having her baby taken away from her right after birth if she didn’t get the baby vaccinated. So, we need to know our rights to be able to defend against, and counter the abuse of, the medical community.
Why would a doctor do this? Well, in addition to being among the all-too-common narrow-minded pharmaceutical salespeople that so many doctors are, the truth is that most professionals have a legal requirement to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, and that could include any parent who is not in compliance with the law with respect to their children. The woman referred to above whose child was taken away? She was, essentially, attempting to exercise a philosophical exemption in a state that had only medical and religious exemptions.