Resolved: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.Scientists and public health officials get frustrated, even angry, by vaccine dissenters, a small, but increasingly vocal minority. After all, the argument runs, vaccinations have undoubtedly saved millions of lives since their inception. The risks are minimal; the benefits massive. Besides, without compulsion--without the greatest possible protection of the population--those benefits aren't seen.
So, from an LD perspective, how might we approach the resolution?
Affirmatives will probably use broad-based utilitarian reasoning. If, on balance, compulsory vaccination saves more lives than it puts at risk, then the decision, societally speaking, is a no-brainer. Assemble a few statistics and expert quotes, value "life" and set your criterion to utility, and let logic do the work.
Negatives could respond by attacking the stats, or taking a more philosophical approach, citing the John Stuart Mill adage that "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." This is the classic argument against inoculation; go back to the 1907 anti-immunization book Vaccination by John Pitcairn to see an example.
The rejoinder to this sort of argument is to quote Mill against Mill, as the Washington State Board of Health does in this vaccination briefing [pdf].
John Stuart Mill in On Liberty wrote that “The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” This thesis has become known as the harm principle. The Immunization Advisory Committee endorsed the harm principle and interpreted it to mean that vaccine mandates are justifiable when without them:The crucial thing about communicable disease is that it requires no agency on the part of its victims. Innocents are vectors, too.
• An individual’s decision could place others health in jeopardy
• The state’s economic interests could be threatened by the costs of care for vaccine preventable illness, related disability or death and for the cost of managing vaccine preventable disease outbreaks
• The state’s duty of educating children could be compromised
Since the recipients of vaccinations are most often children, the persons being harmed--or at least risking harm--aren't legally able to accept or refuse inoculation on their own. As the briefing shows, this adds an "it takes a village to raise a (healthy) child" dimension to the debate.
Returning to Pitcairn, at the close of his book, a diatribe against "man-made science" interfering with "God's handiwork" points to another classic argument: that vaccination tampers in God's domain. Updating this logic for the evolutionary era, some anti-vaccinationists will argue that inoculations destroy natural immunities or upset nature's balance. (Want to really go crazy here? Open to a page from the policy playbook, and argue that vaccination is responsible for overpopulation and its concomitant harms. Just don't be surprised if your judge finds you scary.)
Lastly, the Board's briefing cited above refers to allowable exemptions for religious reasons, another argument both sides must prepare for.
For a backgrounder, Wikipedia's page on anti-vaccination arguments is a great place to start. I also like Douglas Diekema's accessible intro to the ethical debate [pdf].
Added: An example of the practical effects of the contemporary debate on vaccination.
Added 10/1: For an accessible introduction to the vaccination controversy from a pediatrician's perspective, I highly recommend Jamie Loehr's The Vaccine Answer Book. It's clearly organized, scientifically minded, and humane.
Added 10/4: I survey some critical definitions.
Added 10/11: An initial list of value/criterion pairs.
Added 10/12: Some thought-provoking links, and a critical question. What if they had a vaccine for smoking cessation? Would public health concerns--which in the modern day certainly include smoking--justify compulsory anti-smoking vaccination?
Added 10/16: How far does the logic of immunization stretch? One blogger considers Gardasil as a paradigm for the question.
And read this NewScientist article on the potential for a "universal flu vaccine."
Added 10/18: An article discussing the tensions in public health law, with implications for the resolution.
Added 10/21: Two parents talk about why they're in favor of vaccination. Hint: it's for the children.
Added 10/22: Why public health law threatens us with "medicalized tyranny."
Added 10/25: Some lines of argument for the affirmative.
Added 11/14: An open thread: what good/bad arguments did you face this weekend?
Added 11/22: In which I tackle the dubious 98.5% statistic.
Added 11/24: The Siracusa Principles as a criterion for the Neg.
Added 12/7: The future brings us... personalized vaccines?
More links and analysis to follow. Add your questions and thoughts in the comments. (This post was updated and edited from a preview written during the summer.)