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Kicked Out of the Play Group
My daughter's play group consists of children ranging in age from infancy to 4 years old. One mother revealed that she does not vaccinate her son. After much frank but cordial discussion and opinions from pediatricians — some thought she endangered our vaccinated kids; others did not — she felt pressured to leave the group. Did the group behave ethically? J.G., PASADENA
The group's inclination was understandable, but its actions were unfortunate. Parents may — must — provide for their kids' safety, but should not act unless that safety is truly threatened. Had you thought this mother was a witch who would cast wicked spells on your kids, you would have been wrong to purge her from your midst. A parent may prevent her child from being turned into a toad, but she may not exile someone when there's no actual risk of toad-turning. You could, however, expel a member who is merely a social or cultural menace — a parent (or precocious but sullen 2-year-old) who curses like a drunken sailor, perhaps.
Did this mother present any such dangers? It can be a tough call to make when pediatricians offer contradictory advice, but the doctors I consulted say she did not imperil your kids, so I say you were wrong to push her out. Her views on vaccination are certainly benighted. Or as Dr. Mark Cullen of the Yale medical school more tactfully puts it, "The data on the harm from vaccines (e.g., autism) is such that the mother's choice not to vaccinate is a very poor one for her own child." That is, she endangers not your play group's vaccinated kids but her own. She also jeopardizes other people's unvaccinated children. Dr. Michele Barry, Cullen's wife and also of Yale, cites a statistic from one study: "The likelihood of an unvaccinated child getting measles after exposure is anywhere from 22 to 224 times greater compared to vaccinated kids."
Assuming that this mother is a congenial person (and you wouldn't have included her otherwise), you should not exile her simply because she deviates from the group's thinking. It is possible to socialize with people who have a diversity of ideas, even wrongheaded ones. As Dr. Johnson wrote, "a man accustomed to hear only the echo of his own sentiments, soon bars all the common avenues of delight, and has no part in the general gratification of mankind." And he is a guy I'd want in my play group.
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