Senator Cheryl C.Kagan filed SB378 on February 1, the same day a hearing was scheduled for the Finance Committee.
The fundamental premise of this bill is that minors aged 14 – or in some cases younger – have the same capacity as an adult to consent to vaccination. No evidence or data supports this premise; In fact, overwhelming evidence demonstrates the contrary. The Supreme Court ruled in 1979 in Parham v. J.R.: “Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments.”
This bill asserts that minor children of potentially any age, including children with developmental disabilities, may have the ability to assess their own risk and the nuance of risk-benefit analysis with regard to their own health histories. But the bill specifically states that these same minors do not have the capacity to refuse a vaccine. This premise is patently absurd and outrageous. This bill presents an unabashed attempt to usurp parental authority and the individual medical rights of children and their parents.
Over 50% of children in the U.S., including Maryland, have a serious chronic health condition. One in 60 children in Maryland (2%) and 1 in 37 boys (3%) are on the autism spectrum. One in six children in the U.S. has a developmental disability and that number is rising. Health care providers administering medical procedures may not recognize these disabilities in high-functioning children with special needs. How can these children give consent to invasive medical procedures without parental guidance?
This bill specifically asserts that these children, at any age, may be able to understand and give informed consent to vaccination without the capacity to fully understand personal risks. From the bill: “A minor under the age of 14 years, including a minor who is developmentally disabled or unemancipated, has the capacity to consent to vaccination if: in the opinion of the health care provider, the minor is of sufficient intelligence to understand and appreciate the need for, nature of, and the significant risks and consequences of the vaccination; and the minor is able to give informed consent.”
Only licensed psychiatrists and a select group of specifically trained and licensed pediatricians are medically qualified to diagnose autism spectrum disorders and other related developmental disabilities. Only these providers are qualified to accurately assess the intellectual capacity of any minor child with regard to their ability to give informed consent. This assessment cannot be performed adequately in a single health care appointment by an appropriately licensed professional, much less by any other health care provider licensed to administer vaccines. This bill would grossly violate fundamental medical ethics and the current standards of medical practice defined by the AAP and the APA.
This bill would reinforce and extend blanket liability to health care providers who inappropriately administer vaccines without proper informed consent in the event of an adverse reaction or any damages. The profound and devastating consequences of vaccine injury will be the sole burden of the parents and children, while the decision to impose that harm will be solely in the hands of the health care providers with no liability for harm.
Minor children are not legally allowed to vote, smoke, use a tanning bed, or consent to any other invasive medical procedure. These kids are not able to give fully informed consent, nor do they necessarily know the details of their own medical history. It’s inappropriate to place the burden of medical decision making on minors at this age. If this precedent is set, what other medical decisions might the state take away from parents?
But the biggest concern with this bill is how destructive it is to families! It purposely cajoles kids away from their parents, sends a message to kids that they don’t need to look to their parents for guidance or advice, and then encourages kids to keep secrets from their parents. This, experts say, lays the foundation for a relationship fraught with fear, paranoia, and mistrust. It also removes parents — the single biggest influence in a child’s life — from their children’s health care decisions, preventing them from fulfilling their natural role as parents.
Let’s be clear. Parents are the single biggest stakeholders in their children’s success and well-being, and their voices need to be heard. There’s no justification for the government to eliminate a parent’s legal and moral right to make an informed risk-benefit decision about vaccination on behalf of their minor child, especially when doctors and other vaccine providers bear no liability or accountability for what happens to the child after vaccination.
The bill presents broad and open-ended language which would potentially allow any health care provider licensed to administer a vaccine to coerce children of any age and any capacity to consent to vaccination if the health care provider personally assesses the child to be competent, based on no defined criteria.
This bill gives health care providers complete authority to usurp parental decisions with blanket protection from liability. We must insist that the bill is withdrawn or live with the risk that if the bill is passed into law, our children are at constant risk of coercion whenever they’re out of our sight.