A High Court has ruled that two girls must have the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccination.
The ruling came as a result of a disagreement between a mother and father, then married, now divorced, as the father wished for his daughters to be vaccinated. The two girls, aged fifteen and eleven, also opposed having the vaccination.
The parents had previously agreed to never have their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, with the exception of their first child receiving the first of the jabs. The course was never completed as the parents’ views changed. However, the father recently went back on his change of mind as he became aware of the dangers related to the illnesses in consideration of the recent outbreaks.
The girls did not want the vaccination as the court believed they had been heavily influenced by their mother’s opinions. One of the girls refused on the grounds that she is a vegan and the vaccine contains animal-based materials. A court-appointed welfare officer questioned the girl on this and informed her that medication she would have to take if she became ill also contained animal-based materials. If left untreated, the illnesses could cause fever, pneumonia, brain inflammation, brain damage and even death.
On the other hand, a key reason the mother rejected vaccinations is due to research published in the past. In 1998, Dr Andrew Wakefield published research that demonstrated a link between the MMR vaccination and autism and bowel disease. His research was published in a notorious medical journal, The Lancet. This research had been based on evidence collected since the introduction of the vaccine in 1988.
This has since been discredited and the NHS has urged parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated as the benefits could potentially be life-saving. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of vaccinations given since the major outbreak across the UK this year. The outbreak began with a small number of reported cases in Swansea in November 2012 and escalated from there.
The High Court judge, Mrs Justice Theis, ruled that the benefits of the vaccination greatly outweigh the risks. She also had to consider the level of understanding that the parties held and concluded it was minimal and that they did not understand the true risks. It was ordered that the girls should receive the vaccination immediately.
This has sparked major debate. Various vegetarian and vegan groups have been arguing that the vegan child’s human rights have been contravened. They state that under the Equality Act 2006, vegans are recognised as a group who are entitled to have their rights upheld. They are viewing this ruling as an infringement and are criticising the judge for not fully appreciating a vegan way of life.
Opposing this, many other judges and solicitors have responded to the criticisms aimed at the judge and have agreed that their decision would have been the same. After all, the aim of a judge where a child is involved is to ensure the welfare of the child is their primary concern.
However, this is not the first time a judge has ruled for a child to have an MMR vaccination.
In 2011, in the case of C v A (A Minor)  EWHC 4033 (Fam), children were ordered to be given the vaccination despite parental objection when they were in local authority care. The children’s guardians sought the vaccination though the parents were anxious of the possible side effects published by Dr Wakefield. One of the children already suffered from autism, and so the child’s parents worried the vaccine would cause his condition to further deteriorate and cause other health complications.
However, at paragraph nine, the judge recognises that
once the inherent jurisdiction is invoked, the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
The children’s guardians gained the authorisation to have the children vaccinated.
It is important to note that the judge on this case was also Mrs Justice Theis – an issue which has caused concern. Many who opposed her judgement in C v A were outraged to hear that she had sat on the more recent case, which resulted in the same outcome. Human rights activists accuse her of infringing Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is the right to respect private and family life in relation to the parents.
However, in response to the criticism shrouding Mrs Justice Theis, Thorpe LJ heard the case of C (A Child) (Immunisation: Parental Rights)  EWCA Civ 1148. This was at the Court of Appeal in 2003 and therefore set precedent for Mrs Justice Theis to follow. The case was only different by facts but the argument was the same – could a court order a parent to ensure their child is given an MMR vaccination? Thorpe LJ attempted to balance the positives and negatives, but failed to see how the bad could outweigh the good. The child was given an MMR vaccination as Thorpe LJ held that it was ‘in the child’s best interests’.
Through this case law, it is clear that the courts attempt to put the child at the heart of the decision-making process and conclude in their best interests. Unless new and astounding medical evidence comes to light on the detrimental effects of the MMR vaccination, it is likely that if any future cases appear before the courts on the issue, judges will order for a vaccination of the child.