Oct 4, 2009

definitions in the compulsory immunization resolution

The November / December NFL Lincoln-Douglas debate resolution...
Resolved: Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.
...offers some interesting definitional possibilities.

(Unless otherwise noted, definitions from Dictionary.com, which uses the Random House Unabridged Dictionary.)

Public health
"Health services to improve and protect community health, esp. sanitation, immunization, and preventive medicine."
Note the largely preventive nature of public health. Immunization is meant to prevent unnecessary sickness, suffering, and death. Note also that the word "public" is important. The agent of action in this resolution is the government, which brings social contract reasoning into play.

"something that relates or pertains to a person; business; affair"
"a matter that engages a person's attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person's welfare or happiness"
This is a particularly prickly word for the affirmative. Although "concern" carries a connotation of anxiety or worry, negatives might argue that the term is vague, and (as a general principle) doesn't rise to the level, say, of an emergency. Affirmatives would do well to combine the above definition of "public health" with the first definition of "concern"--arguing that the very business of "public health" is that of prevention through, among other things, immunization. (Also, they should point out that governments rarely compel trivial immunizations, trying to block out negative arguments about wholesale rights-trampling.

The two major senses of justification may lead to completely different kinds of arguments. Those (especially on the negative) defining the argument in terms of rights will use the first sense: "to show (an act, claim, statement, etc.) to be just or right."

Those advocating a utilitarian approach might use the second definition: "to defend or uphold as warranted or well-grounded." This is much, much broader, and works with a wide array of criteria, including cost-benefit analyses.

Compulsory immunization
The resolution offers no bright line for how immunizations might be compelled: through fines or taxes? Through force? Affirmatives will want to look at the history of compulsory immunization for examples of how governments usually go about it.

Note: a phrase that isn't found in the resolution, but is critical for both sides to understand, is "herd immunity"--the idea that when enough members of a community are resistant to infection, it will effectively disappear in a population, protecting even those members (like conscientious objectors) who refuse to be vaccinated. The threshold is usually above 80%. The aff will argue that, historically, reaching the threshold has required government meddling, if not outright compulsion.


Anonymous said...

thank you for posting these important definitions of terms. i would like to ask what your sources of the definitions are because as a LD debater myself I have found that one needs a reliable source for term def.otherwise your whole argument can be throw into question. thank you

Jim Anderson said...

The definitions all come from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (via dictionary.com).

Jave said...

Hi Jim! I just wanted to know what you meant by pointing out that governments rarely compel trivial immunizations. This "wholesale rights-trampling" is going to be a big thing against the aff.

Also, this is kind of random, but any idea why "a widespread and growing number of parents falsely claim religious and philosophical beliefs to get vaccination exemptions?" (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccination_policy#Vaccination_policy_in_the_U.S.) Wouldn't they have somewhat strong beliefs to begin with if they wanted to avoid vaccination?

Jim Anderson said...

Jave, there aren't many governments, as far as I know, that compel immunization for diseases that aren't dangerous. Measles, mumps, rubella, and the host of other ills that are inoculated against by compulsion (in the places where it's compulsory) are quite risky to those who would suffer from them--primarily children. Lower-risk ailments like the flu aren't usually inoculated against by mandate.

Why are some (few, I'd imagine) parents faking religious commitments to get exemptions? They probably live in states where religion and medical necessity are the only criteria for invoking an exemption. (Washington state, where I live, also allows a philosophical objection.) Many parents are concerned about the health risks of vaccines, and since most American public schools require immunization for entry--unless an exemption is granted--the parents have an incentive game the system.

(I'm not sure how widespread the problem is, and I'm just guessing at motives.)

Anonymous said...

How would one refute the fact that immunizations are no longer mandatory once there are exemptions. according to your definition of cumpulsory your entire case could be null, as it would just seem like a super-charged voluntary campaign.

Elizabeth_Anne said...

Thank you for posting this, I debated this topic in '09 and am about to use the neg. info for a college essay. It's not easy to debate the neg. because it goes against the utilitarian but I figure if I can make a strong enough essay out of it and am convincing enough, it will put me ahead in the race for admissions.. but because you can chose to opt. out of immunizations, do you think it would still be strong enough to make an essay out of?

Mike said...

Most people aren't aware of the fact that vaccines do not give you permanent protection from the diseases they protect you from. The question then rinses is the risks with vaccination worth the protection. I can understand more serious viruses but hpv?