Sunday, September 06, 2015

Glad To See Some Sanity In Lakewood

At the start of Elul, three prominent Rabbis in the Yeshiva community - Rabbis Shmuel Kaminetzky, Mattisyahu Salomon and Malkiel Kotler, distributed a letter stating that yeshivos must accept children who are unvaccinated.

The letter itself is flawed in several ways.  First, and foremost, it's flawed in that it presents the idea that not vaccinating your children against dangerous diseases is an acceptable lifestyle choice.  But even beyond that, it has other serious flaws.

Below is the letter, as presented on

In the second bullet point, they raise the point that vaccines present risk and that the United States Supreme Court stated that they are "unavoidably unsafe."  Since they are "unavoidably unsafe," no one has the halachic right to force vaccination.

Let's take a closer look at this and start with the first statement.  When something is described as "unavoidably unsafe," it sounds downright dangerous.  But, in reality, that's not the case.  In fact, it's a product that, while potentially unsafe, *should* be used due to it's great utility and that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

An "unavoidably unsafe" product is, perhaps, best defined by a comment that defines them in the Second Restatement of the Law of Torts, section 402A.

Unavoidably unsafe products. There are some products which, in the present state of human knowledge, are quite incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use. These are especially common in the field of drugs. An outstanding example is the vaccine for the Pasteur treatment of rabies, which not uncommonly leads to very serious and damaging consequences when it is injected. Since the disease itself invariably leads to a dreadful death, both the marketing and use of the vaccine are fully justified, notwithstanding the unavoidable high degree of risk which they involve. Such a product, properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directions and warning, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous. The same is true of many other drugs, vaccines, and the like, many of which for this very reason cannot legally be sold except to physicians, or under the prescription of a physician. 

The point being made here is that (as in the example) the treatment for rabies has some very serious side effects.  Nonetheless, since the disease itself otherwise leads to a near-certain horrible death, the use of such products is fully justified.  And, as the final sentence says, the same is true for other drugs and vaccines.

In other words, a product that is "unavoidably unsafe" is not a product that is in any way defective or dangerous.  On the contrary, it's a product that, due to it's importance, should be used, despite the potential for side effects.  Much like laypeople confuse the term "theory" when it comes to evolution, not realizing that it has a specific meaning when it comes to science, so too, people misunderstand "unavoidably unsafe" when it is used in law.

In addition, it must be pointed out that I find it highly interesting that these Rabbis are willing to put so much weight behind the words of the Supreme Court (as they misunderstand them).  The justices of the United States Supreme Court are experts at law.  They are not experts in medicine.  If they were to proclaim that the measles vaccine were the most dangerous thing ever invented, that would not make it so -- especially if, in the opinion of virtually the entire medical establishment, the vaccine were safe.  I find it very telling that they chose to base their decision on whether or not schools should mandate vaccines for attending children on the basis of a Supreme Court statement rather than on the basis of the medical establishment who are far more knowledgeable about vaccines.

Fortunately, there are those in Lakewood who are not taking this silently.  This week's Voice of Lakewood has a full-page advertisement (page 266) from medical professionals in the Lakewood community.

It is certainly heartening to see responsible professionals standing up and making a public statement to protect children from preventable childhood diseases.  Hopefully, people will learn to put more trust in doctors when it comes to medical issues than they do in Rabbis who do not have the training or knowledge to deal with issues such as these.

The Wolf