Vaccination and other altruistic medical treatments: should autonomy or communitarianism prevail?

Pywell, Stephanie (2000). Vaccination and other altruistic medical treatments: should autonomy or communitarianism prevail? Medical Law International, 4(3-4) pp. 223–243.

Abstract

The publication of a report into a case where an organ donor's constraints on the race of potential recipients raises questions about whether respect for autonomy or communitarianism should prevail in altruistic medical procedures.

This article argues that vaccination is properly viewed as an altruistic medical procedure because some vaccines are of more good to society than to the vaccinee, who runs associated health risks.

This article reviews how autonomy and communitarianism are balanced in cadaveric and live organ donation, bone marrow donation, gamete donation, blood donation and vaccination. It criticises vaccination policy for ostensibly respecting patient autonomy yet in practice compromising that autonomy in various ways.

The conclusion is that there is a spectrum of attitudes to the value of autonomy, depending principally upon the invasiveness of the procedure. In most cases the autonomy-communitarianism balance is satisfactory, but this is not so in respect of cadaveric organ donation and vaccination. The article proposes that cadaveric organ donation should be governed by the communitarian law of well-publicised presumed consent. It proposes two alternatives for vaccination: that vaccination should be compulsory or, preferably, that procedures be modified so that parents have real autonomy in their decisions whether to vaccinate their children.

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