When parents disagree – Is vaccination in a child’s best interests?

Immunisation rates in Australia are falling. Some parents want their children vaccinated. Others do not. When parents separate, the Family Court can be asked to decide whether vaccination is in a child’s best interests.

In the courtroom context, parents opposed to vaccination argue that it will have harmful or adverse impacts on their children or that vaccination will aggravate a pre-existing medical condition. They choose to not vaccinate amidst reported concerns about the safety of vaccines and the possible side effects. (We must stress at this juncture that we do not propose to weigh into the debate about the validity or otherwise of research that purports to have found causative links between vaccinations and certain conditions.)

Parents in support of vaccination argue that disease will flourish if children are not vaccinated or that children will miss out on social or sporting activities and opportunities. Often the effect the unvaccinated child could have on new siblings is what brings about the cause for dispute. One parent may also be concerned about losing government benefits if the child is not fully vaccinated.

The debate can become emotionally charged. There is no middle ground. Neither parent will be satisfied with an outcome whereby the child receives, say, half the jabs on the immunisation schedule.

How does the Family Court address this contentious debate?

It will review the evidence from both parties, medical professionals and court appointed experts, and decide whether a particular vaccination is in a child’s best interests.

The Court may also consider the children’s views, where they can be clearly expressed free from undue influence. A child may experience unhappiness if excluded from an extracurricular activity because he or she has not been vaccinated.

While the Court has favoured the view that vaccination is generally in a child’s best interests, it is not bound to this position in every case. For example, the Court may consider the child’s present medical condition, the type of vaccination proposed and cultural concerns.

The above is not intended as legal advice. You should obtain legal advice in relation to your own specific circumstances.

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