When Hillary Clinton repeated the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, a lot of people criticized her for promoting a vaguely socialist philosophy.
At the time, I found the whole controversy a bit comical. Having spent a good part of my own childhood with my maternal grandparents, I was used to being thwacked on the rear by Mike and Mamie’s Italian neighbors when I got mouthy, or being escorted back to their front door and ratted out by the nosy Spillane sisters.
The village owned me as much as my family of origin, and cared as much too.
That’s why I’ve always had a problem with parents who demand unilateral control over their precious offspring, as if they were Ming vases picked up at Christie’s. While I completely support a mother’s right to raise her daughter in the religion of her choosing or a father’s right to monitor the things his son watches on television or is taught in school, I think society has a legitimate interest in and obligation to the welfare of those children.
Fortunately, the laws generally agree. While an adult Jehovah’s Witness can refuse a blood transfusion for religious reasons, he can still be forced to have his ailing child taken to a hospital and given life-saving treatments that would otherwise violate his conscience. Society has balanced the rights of parents against the rights of their little ones and decided that some things transcend custodial rights.
This is not some communist plot to deprive Americans of their parental authority. It is not an illegal incursion on our ability to raise children with our values and according to our preferences. It is simply a recognition that children are not always fortunate in the genetic lottery and are sometimes saddled with loving, albeit dangerously uninformed parents.
We’ve seen this over the past few years with the whole “vaccine” controversy. As someone who was the beneficiary of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, the competing scientific legends whose heroism saved my generation and succeeding generations from the horrors of the iron lung and walking braces, it is inconceivable that any parent would refuse to have their child vaccinated against childhood disease because some loopy blonde celebrity like Jenny McCarthy blames her son’s autism on an injection.
The scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, or that they are any more dangerous than the actual diseases they seek to prevent is almost non-existent. Andrew Wakefield, the so-called authority whose work was cited as proof that vaccines caused autism (and other disorders) was unmasked as a fraud who manipulated data for economic gain, and his work is completely discredited.
Of course, there are always going to be those who can’t resist the opportunity to take partisan shots. Because of some rather ill-informed comments by prominent Republicans like Chris Christie and Rand Paul, this has now become the “Aren’t conservatives idiots?” moment. Clearly, Christie made a giant faux pas when he even suggested that parents could have legitimate opposition to having their children vaccinated.
They can’t. Period.
But just because some conservatives make some stupid and unscientific comments, this does not mean that all conservatives should bear the mark of (Herman) Cain. One of the most prominent conservatives, a man whose medical credentials are unassailable has stated unequivocally that children must be vaccinated. Ben Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon told NPR that, “When you have diseases that have demonstrably been shown to be curtailed or eradicated by immunization, why would you even think about not doing it?”
Why, indeed. The health of a child is nonnegotiable. If a parent’s wishes can be accommodated in pursuit of that goal, fine. But if a parent’s desire to raise that child comes in direct conflict with indisputable science and puts other, particularly vulnerable, children at risk, the village needs to take over.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.