Yes, that is a true statement and the Supreme Court has upheld that decision on at least four since 1905. In 1905 the residents of Cambridge, Massachusetts were under a mandatory smallpox vaccination order but the good Reverend Henning Jacobson was opposed to vaccinations and challenged the Massachusetts law on religious grounds.
There Justice John Marshall Harlan delivered 7-2 decision for the majority saying that the Massachusetts law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that “in every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand” and that “[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”
The court further held that mandatory vaccinations are not arbitrary or oppressive so long as they do not “go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public”. In Massachusetts, with smallpox being “prevalent and increasing in Cambridge,” the regulation in question was “necessary in order to protect the public health and secure the public safety.”
The Court noted that Jacobson had offered proof that there were many in the medical community who believed the smallpox vaccine would not stop spread the disease and, in fact, cause other diseases of the body. However, the opinions offered by Jacobson were “more formidable by their number than by their inherent value” and “[w]hat everybody knows,… [the] opposite theory accords with the common belief and is maintained by high medical authority.” Therefore, it was left to the legislature, not the courts, to determine which of the “two modes was likely to be the most effective for the protection of the public against disease.” No one could “confidently assert that the means prescribed by the State to that end has no real or substantial relation to the protection of the public health and the public safety.”
The final thing acknowledged by the court was that, in “extreme cases,” for certain individuals “in a particular condition of… health,” the requirement of vaccination would be “cruel and inhuman[e],” in which case, courts would be empowered to interfere in order to “prevent wrong and oppression.” However, the statute in question was not “intended to be applied to such a case” and Jacobson “did not offer to prove that, by reason of his then condition, he was, in fact, not a fit subject of vaccination.”
The issues were taken up by the court again in 1922. The case was Zucht v. King and it dealt with the issue of schoolchildren being vaccinated in Texas. In this case, the Supreme Court also upheld the state law stating that municipal officers had broad discretion in matters affecting the application and enforcement of a health law.
Then again in a more recent 1992 case in a New York Family Court that ruled a father was medically negligent when he refused to give his 4-year-old daughter the measles vaccine in the middle of a measles epidemic in their community. The father tried to refuse based on religious beliefs but the court ruled against him because the church he belonged to did not forbid vaccinations… I guess his religious beliefs didn’t matter…
There are plenty of other cases around the county decided in various courts dealing with the vaccination issue and they all seem to fall back onto the Supreme Court decision that set the precedent… That precedent pretty much puts the individual objections beneath those of the public and if the state says it’s a public health crisis you are screwed if you don’t believe in vaccinations…
There is no doubt vaccinations have done a lot of good over the years and eliminated a number of deadly illnesses around the globe but some people believe in them some people do not… Some people simply think they have gotten carried away with them and there are too many… In America, we are programmed to believe in the “To each their own” way of life but when it comes to public health the medical community and courts disagree… And that is one thing they all agree on…
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