Utilitarianism and the Anti-Vaxxers

Untreated measles will take a child from mild fever to all-over spots and brain damage in about a week.

Measles killed millions of people around the turn of the century. Even with today’s vaccines, survival isn’t guaranteed, and 25% of those surviving will have brain damage if the fever goes on long enough. 30% actually die, their immune systems compromised by HIV or other conditions. The argument for this most basic of disease prevention seems bulletproof: give everybody the vaccine so the chance a compromised person get infected drops astronomically. That’s the “herd immunity” doctors talk about.

But there’s a group of people out there for whom this is unacceptable. A few parents feel justified in not participating in this social dynamic that keeps all of us safe, owing to the small amount of dissenting studies that suggest a correlation between vaccines and other disorders, like autism. (By the way, those studies are bogus.) Parents don’t give their kids these vaccines, and the result is immediate: the thing starts popping up everywhere again. And because measles targets the compromised and those more likely to be exposed to infection, it’s not those entitled parents who get hit, its usually the poor and the people relying on public services. The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. Basically, those with much are trying to treat a non-existent problem by pushing a very real, lethal condition onto other people.

And that’s the argument that I’m going to try and make here for the case of utilitarianism in many of today’s complicated moral quandaries. Here’s a handy explainer:

As always Waterson explains much better than Websters.

Utilitarianism gets a bad rap because when it is applied, somebody always winds up unhappy. It’s the human condition writ large: when you care for the many, you’re reducing the harm to a few. But the few never like it. We all resent when we’re the ones getting the short end of the stick.

But the ruthlessly awesome thing about Utilitarianism is, when it comes to a tough ethical problem, it almost always works. Why? Because the alternative is everyone goes down with the ship. Do you save 100%, or 30%? The answer is obvious.

Opponents of utilitarianism will point to Calvin, above. They’ll say clearly that the thought is only an excuse for the many to bully the few. They’ll also say when the choice is 30% of human beings, the math isn’t so easy to do. Then they’ll pull a Godwin and say look at Hitler! Was it right for him to burn so many Jews for the benefit of his “true Germans?” In which case you should now conjure images of children literally itching and burning to death, and wonder if perhaps measles is a different case. Thereby justifying Godwin’s law: the appeal to Hitler is an appeal to fear, and logically, makes no damn sense.

Regarding medical vaccination, Utilitarianism works because the few are so clearly wrong and sustain almost none of the consequences. And this doesn’t even boil down to whether or not they’ve read the studies, just reacting to fear or if vaccinations truly do cause autism, even though each of these things is a very valid reason to judge these parents harshly. Let’s not mince words, all parents are just looking for an excuse to say the child’s problems are not mummy’s and poppy’s fault. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, we’re all scared and we’re all looking for something to ease our tribulations. However, that is enough reason to discount these parents entirely. Because one fact stands above any argument, and which conclusively judges these anti-vaxxer parents in the wrong.

Whether to vaccinate or not: Only ONE of these options gives us more time to fix the child’s condtion. 

Marty, you’re just not thinking fourth-dimensionally!

I propose, as humbly as it can be said, that Utilitarianism is a grand solution, when the majority saved is that of time. Time to keep researching. Time to make your child more comfortable and adapt to his neurodiversity. Time, ultimately, to make amends. So to the anti-vaxxer parents: Yea, giving up years of your life helping your kid sucks, but you’re not going to kill off other peoples’ kids for a shitty hail-mary.


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