Polls show a majority of Americans are concerned about the H1N1 virus (swine flu), but also about the safety and efficacy of the swine flu vaccine. Is it ethical to say no to this or any vaccine? Are there valid religious reasons to accept or decline a vaccine? Will you get a swine flu shot? Will your children?
The H1N1 virus threatens the national and administration of the vaccine should be mandatory. Certainly, there are valid religious reasons to refuse or accept vaccination. However, in the face of a serious threat to national health, the United States of America has historically, and without remorse, set aside the religious reservations of a few in the interest of protecting the majority of its population. It must be done, but it need not be disrespectful. If we are compelled to ask our Christian Scientist and Jehovah’s Witness brethren, among others, to trample their religious principles for our benefit, the least we can do is be kind about it, be respectful, and if at all possible, grateful to them for threatening their salvation in favor of ours.
I compromise my principles a little bit every day in order to ensure religious freedom for my neighbors. In my own state of Illinois, a parent choosing to refuse state-required immunizations must jump through a series of state and county hoops, produce signed documents and testimonies and prove their religious affiliation. In exchange, the state offers me as much assurance as it possibly can that my vaccinated children will be safe from infection. It does not, it cannot, categorically promise to isolate my children from their unvaccinated classmates. This is a risk I live with because I would not want to live in a country that required “separate but equal” facilities for people who had made choices based on their faith traditions. Once in a while, in one fell swoop and in recognition of special circumstances, I ask these same neighbors to make a similar sacrifice for me. I am confident in their empathy and reasonableness.
Jesus told us to preserve the Sabbath and we respect people who honor the Sabbath. He also healed the sick on the Sabbath. He argued that violating the Sabbath laws did not invalidate the Sabbath but that his father in heaven valued human life above ritual purity. He made these arguments and he performed these miracles with respect and kindness toward those whose religions he compromised through his actions. We can do no less in his name.