Should Doctors be Allowed to Refuse Treatment if Parents Won’t Vaccinate?

by , 12/08/11

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NPR recently broadcast an interesting discussion – Treating Families That Don’t Immunize. This NPR opinion piece asks the question: Is it okay, or even ethical for pediatricians to refuse routine care to families who refuse to vaccinate their children? The piece features commentary by New York Times Ethicist, Ariel Kaminer, who also recently posted this question to readers at The New York Times. The opinions are very interesting, especially if you read the reader comments on both. Many parents commented that a doctor dismissing a patient due to vaccine non-compliance isn’t fair. Yet, to play devil’s advocate, on the flip side, research shows that parents want their own freedom of choice when it comes to vaccine arrangements, such as many parents want to delay vaccines, have alternative schedules or not vaccinate altogether. It’s a little strange to want freedom of choice yourself, yet deny some doctors the same rights.

Should doctors have the right to turn away families who won't vaccinate?

  • 157 Votes Yes - it's the doctor's practice and could harm other patients.
  • 225 Votes No - it's unethical to turn patients away because you don't agree about vaccines.
  • 2 Votes I'm not sure.

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Image via Flickr User edenpictures

How many doctors turn patients away?

Currently it’s unclear just how many doctors actually turn away patients who won’t get vaccinated, but a recent national survey of pediatricians found that around 25% percent, always, often or sometimes will turn a child away if the child’s family refuses to vaccinate for basics such as polio and diphtheria. A MSNBC.com story points out that this is a seemingly growing trend. Some doctor’s offices have instituted policies that require all patients who want treatment to be immunized. This trend of dropping non-vaccinated patients is not supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization that does support universal immunization, but who also, according to the above story, says “Refusal to immunize should not be the only reason a doctor turns a family away.” However, the APP does offer doctors an out stating that:

If, after discussion about the importance of vaccination and the risks of not vaccinating, the parent refuses, the pediatrician should document the discussion and have the parent sign a waiver affirming his/her decision not to vaccinate (i.e., AAP Refusal to Vaccinate Form). If the situation becomes such that you are no longer comfortable having the parent/patient in your practice, the AAP manual, “Medical Liability for Pediatricians”, Chapter 3, offers resources for risk communication and termination of the physician-patient relationship.

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5 Responses to “Should Doctors be Allowed to Refuse Treatment if Parents Won’t Vaccinate?”

  1. imogenoxley says:

    Let us not (ever) forget that it is the doctors who are providing us with a service, and not the other way around. We are the paying customers, we get freedom of choice – they don’t.

  2. kandi6000 says:

    Vaccines are not just a personal issue, they are a public health one. If you refuse vaccination altogether, you put all the children that your child associates with at risk. People forget what life was like before these vaccines, which are taken for granted. Last summer in California, infants were dying from Pertussis (whooping cough) http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks.html/. Ask your grandparents about what it was like before the polio vaccine. These diseases still exist, and are devastating.

  3. kandi6000 says:

    If you look at it from a business perspective, like the previous poster, then of course doctors have the right to refuse service, just as any business does.

    However, vaccines are not just a personal choice, they are a public health issue. People forget what it was like before these vaccines, which we take for greanted. Last year in California there was a rash of whooping cough (Pertussis) and infants were dying (http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks.html/). Ask grandparents what it was like before the polio vaccine. When you refuse to vaccinate altogether, you put all the children your child associates with at risk as well as the public at large.

  4. Hippiefrog says:

    So what if there’s a doctor who doesn’t vaccinate… should he or she refuse to treat kids who are vaccinated? Is that ethical?

  5. solidtoz says:

    kandi6000. Polio was on the decrease before the vaccine, do some research on personal hygiene, sanitation and better nutrition. Upon further investigation, they are finding the majority of people infected with Pertussis were actually vaccinated. In Australia there is finally talk that vaccine is actually useless because a new strain of the virus which is now out there. If my doctor refuses his services, He’s doing me a favour. In Australia you still have the right to choose…….land of the free …………my a-hole!

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