Two difficult court cases protect the public's health

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 25 2011 11:57 AM

Two difficult court cases protect the public's health

Two interesting court cases relevant to medical reality came up recently.

1) Yahoo news is reporting that a judge has thrown out a case where lawyers wanted to use religious and alt-med exemptions as an excuse to not get health care. People were claiming that they had faith that God would heal them in times of sickness, and that forcing them to get health care was an attack on that belief. There are a lot of things wrong with this -- for example, they weren't being forced to actually get health care, just insurance -- and to be frank, this sort of thinking constitutes a major health risk to the population. It also smells very much like a fishing expedition on the part of people against universal health care, using religion as a "get out of critical responses free" card.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I've said this before: as an American I am not thrilled with the government telling me what I have to do or not do, but there are times when the greater good must be considered... and considered very carefully. Slippery slopes are treacherous. To some people "the greater good" is a phrase used to justify way too much, but it also is part of the Preamble to the Constitution. It's why we have government in the first place. And when it comes to public health threats coupled with a large number of unskeptical people, it definitely comes into play.

Tip o' the tort to Fark.

2) The Supreme Court has ruled that a family claiming their daughter was injured by vaccinations cannot sue the manufacturer. It's a bit of a complicated situation, but Orac has a breakdown. There's a lot of rhetoric flying around, and while Orac's discussion is a bit lengthy it's well worth your time. The bottom line is that there is so much antivax nonsense out there that companies making vaccines are at big financial risk to produce them due to potentially costly litigation. This represents a huge health risk -- vaccines save millions of lives -- so several years ago a special court system was set up to handle vaccine damage claims. This new ruling protects that system.

To me, this whole compromise of a special court is the best that we can hope for given how strong the antivax movement is, and how vast a public health threat it is. I'd rather we didn't have to have a special court to handle these lawsuits, but the reality is that we need it if we are to protect people from diseases which would resurge if the vaccines were to stop being made and distributed.

It breaks my heart that so many parents are out there looking for answers for their children's illnesses, but we cannot abandon all reason and all science because of it -- in fact, we must stick with the evidence and science-based medicine all the more strongly. If we don't then billions of dollars will be wasted, and, far worse, a specter will rise once again of many more deaths due to preventable diseases.


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