The Colorado legislature is considering SB163 School Entry Immunization legislation this session.
The bill contains two important provisions:
(1) A requirement to provide a certificate of completion of the online education module or certificate of non-medical exemption.
(2) Inclusion of religious exemptions within all non-medical exemptions
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are primarily responsible for their children and must be free to follow their conscience for what is best for their children. The Church also teaches that we live in community with each other and must balance our rights with the legitimate responsibility to promote the common good.
All of us have a responsibility to inform our conscience before accepting or refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases.
As of now, SB163 contains the ability for parents to exercise their right of conscience in regard to whether or not to vaccinate their children. There is currently no religious liberty threat in the legislative language. If there is ever an infringement on religious liberty or parents’ right to exercise their conscience, the Colorado Catholic Conference will defend that right.
Rights of Parents
The right of parents to raise and educate their children is central to the well-being of the family and ultimately to society.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2207 The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.
2209 The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life.
The Catechism also makes clear that the family operates within the larger community which shares a mutual dependence as families exercise their freedom:
1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.
Finally, society has the responsibility to balance the various freedoms in a manner that promotes the common good:
1908 Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.
Catholics must inform themselves and follow their conscience with regard to vaccinations. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has provided doctrinal guidance on the morality of vaccines. Specifically, the CDF looked at the morality of using vaccines derived using “descendant” cells of aborted fetuses. In the summary of its ruling, the CDF says:
“There is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
“As regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in their own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
“The lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
“Such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.”
A link to the complete letter from the CDF is available on the website of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). The Center answers a variety of questions on the morality and ethics of vaccines along with other articles that might be of interest in creating a well-formed conscience on this topic.
Visit the site at http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=1284.