Should the government force you to take your medicine?

“Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”

That’s a mouthful, but if you want me to translate for you, I’m happy to help.

A new vaccine law was passed in the Legislature last session that removed the ability for parents to claim religious and philosophical exemptions to the required vaccines children need to obtain in order to enter schools. This makes the mandate impossible to get out of, unless you have medical reasons for not getting your children vaccinated.

The ballot question is asking if you want to reject that new law. So if you don’t like it, you vote yes. If you do like the law you vote no.

A girl gets an MMR inoculation at the Portland Community Health Center. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

I’ve stayed relatively quiet on the issue, myself, because it is impossible to comment on something like this without being completely sandbagged by angry reactions. If you want to try to speak reasonably about the question, and think critically about it, you will not be rewarded for doing so. Indeed, try to be reasonable and acknowledge the quality arguments on each side, and the ridiculous claims on each side, and you’ll end up with everyone hating you.

As much as I will likely regret doing so, though, it would be a disservice to not make the attempt at fairly discussing this. So, against my better judgment, let me try to do so.

To start, it is not much of a secret that I am incredibly pro-vaccine. So much so, that my hostility to the anti-vaccine segment of the population has been somewhat … legendary. Jenny McCarthy is not a respected figure in my eyes, and the mere mention of Andrew Wakefield, the snake-oil salesman who peddled the discredited junk science that sent people into a panic about autism is enough to make me explode.

Vaccines do not cause autism. No, it is not a problem to give children — even babies — a lot of vaccines at once, and they could handle many more at once than they get. The scary, evil sounding chemicals — formaldehyde, mercury and aluminum — that are in or have been in some vaccines, will not hurt you at the trace levels that are present in vaccines.

I have all my vaccines, and I got my kids vaccinated on the standard schedule and never even questioned whether or not to do it. You should too, by the way.

However, despite all that, I will be voting yes on Question 1, because there is one and only one issue that is relevant in my mind: government power.

The old vaccine law established a baseline school requirement, while allowing people some reasonable opportunities to opt out. In that sense, it was something I like to call “soft government coercion,” in that it used policy to try to convince people to do something important, but gave them a way out if they objected.

The new law does not. While it preserves medical opt-outs, for everyone else it amounts to a government mandate to inject your children with a medicine that the government has decided they must take if they are to go to school. Your only option to say no is to home school and keep your child isolated, which for many families is an impossibility.

Perhaps you think that is a good thing. The medicine they want us to take is good for us, so why complain?

Sorry, but I’m never going to be OK with that. It is good for us today, but what happens when the list of things we are required to administer to ourselves grows? Are we going to live in a world someday where overweight children will be forced to take diet pills, children with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder will be forced to take Ritalin, and kids struggling with depression are forced to take anti-depressants?

If you don’t like it, you can just home school, right?

Once we let the government in the door to force us to treat ourselves with medicines that it deems necessary — even if they are right — we set a very dangerous precedent that will absolutely be abused some day in the future.

Yes, vaccine rates are falling, but that is happening because people are losing faith in authority figures like doctors as purveyors of truth. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are, and if you want to solve the problem of falling vaccine rates, that is what needs to be addressed.

But doing so is hard, so instead we run to the government to fix it. Take your medicine, or else.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.