Recently, a judge in Michigan sentenced a mother to seven days in jail for contempt of court. The reason? Mother refused to follow a court order to have her son vaccinated.
Mother and father shared joint custody of their son, and apparently both parents had agreed not to have their son vaccinated. Subsequently, father changed his mind and would no longer consent to the child not receiving vaccines, which became the basis of a contempt proceeding.
Michigan allows parents in certain circumstances not to vaccinate their children, but to do so the parents must obtain a waiver that includes a mandatory educational session about the benefit of vaccines.
In the 1990’s, one study, now long debunked, theorized that vaccines in young children has some link to autism. As a result, a small but vocal movement developed to refuse to vaccinate young children. In the twenty years since, states across the country have seen a sudden rise in certain communicable diseases for which we routinely administer vaccines, including whooping cough and measles. Until the “anti-vax” movement began in full force, cases of whooping cough and measles were non-existent – the vaccines had done precisely what scientists hoped would happen, the end of certain communicable diseases that can be fatal in certain populations.
The mother in the Michigan case is one of the anti-vaxxers, and chose to go to jail because of her beliefs. She told the judge she could not bring herself to force her child to receive a vaccine. As a result, the judge awarded the father temporary custody and he made sure the child received his vaccines.
In Missouri, for a child to attend a daycare center of a private or public school, the child must produce proof of immunizations against certain communicable diseases, but the child may be exempt if a parent files a written exemption based on either religious beliefs or medical reasons verified by a letter from a licensed physician.
Despite the fact that Missouri offers an exemption, a family court judge can determine that the failure to procure a vaccine for a child might put the child at risk and as a result take a variety of measures to assure the child is vaccinated – much as the judge in Michigan did.
Could a parent in Missouri lose custody over an anti-vax position? Yes, if the facts presented to a judge showed that the parent placed the child at risk of physical harm or otherwise acted against the best interests of the child.
It should be noted that having an “anti-vax” belief is not per se a religious belief. Some religions have a long history of opposing certain medical procedures, but most lack such a history.
It should also be noted that the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, along with all major medical associations, have long ago rejected the lone study that created the “anti-vax” fervor. To date, no scientific proof exists to show that vaccines pose any health risk for healthy children, but scientists have abundant proof that failure to vaccinate a population leads to an outbreak of communicable diseases that do have serious health risks for children and adults alike.
If you have questions about vaccines and custody, contact us – we can help.