Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hey, Guess Where Your Freedom To Swing Your Arm Ends? My reply to Peggy O’Mara

The other day I stumbled across this blogpost, which is basically a verbatim post of an article by Peggy O'Mara, editor of Mothering magazine (a woman with whose rhetoric I have been somewhat unimpressed since reading a well-known article of hers in which she interrupted her prolonged diatribe about what we should be doing about our babies' sleep to tell us not to listen to experts who didn't know our babies.  I'm willing to bet that, to this day, she hasn't spotted the contradiction there.)  I couldn't decide which I found more objectionable – her skewing of the facts and figures in the name of 'informing' parents, or her attitude towards freedom of choice – but, either way, I hadn't actually planned to blog about it, purely due to the so-many-blog-topics-so-little-time factor.  However, thanks to my darling husband giving me the much-treasured Mother's Day treat of an hour on my own while he takes the children to the garden centre, I actually had a chance to sit down and write comments on some of the blog posts I've been wanting to comment on; and the comment I wrote for that post got longer, and longer, until before I knew it I realised I had a whole blogpost on my hands and might as well go ahead and post it as such.  So, this is my reply to Peggy O'Mara's article 'The Assault On Freedom Of Conscience'.


I'm all in favour of people having
freedom of choice, up to a point. But the point in question is the
point at which their freedom of choice impacts significantly upon the
lives of others. And, despite Peggy O'Mara's ridiculous claim in
her penultimate sentence, parents are *not* the only ones who have to
live with the consequences of these particular choices. Their
children also have to live – or die – with them.

In the case of choices about vaccines,
other people are also affected. No, Peggy O'Mara, no-one is trying
to claim that the vaccines are 100% effective – just that they
greatly reduce a child's risk of catching a disease, if they come
into contact with it. As, indeed, your own figures show. (The vast
majority of children are vaccinated, so, if the total number of
measles cases is split around evenly between the vaccinated and
unvaccinated groups, the rate of measles must be *much* lower in the
vaccinated group.) But they don't provide 100% protection (as,
again, your own figures show), and some children will be unable to
have them for health reasons anyway. So, if you allow measles to
start circulating again by providing a pool of unvaccinated children
who can pass it around, then some other children *will* be affected.

I don't know an awful lot about the US
Constitution, so please stop me if I'm wrong – but I suspect that,
while protecting your right to hold and to voice a minority opinion,
it does not protect your right to act on that opinion willy-nilly if
doing so is going to be harmful to others. If, say, your minority
opinion happens to be that small children are perfectly safe being
held on an adult's lap in a moving care instead of being restrained
in a car seat, you can hold that belief all you like but you'll find
that acting on it will bring you both public censure and legal
sanction. Not because the big bad government are meanies trying to
interfere with your sacred freedom of choice, but because, as the old saying
has it, your freedom to choose where to swing your arm ends where
someone else's nose begins.

Of course, it's necessary to draw a
balance between parents' rights to make their own choices and their
children's rights to be free from harm, and I certainly wouldn't want
to see a world in which it was acceptable to force all parents to
bring their children up exactly in line with State diktat. But
freedom of choice does not exist in a vacuum – some choices *are*
potentially harmful to other people, and that's not an issue we can
simply sweep under the carpet. Choices carry responsibilities.
Choices carry potential consequences for people apart from the person making them. We do need to find the best balance we can between allowing parents to parent unhindered, and stepping in where their ways of so doing may have major adverse impacts upon their children.  But Peggy
O'Mara is simply ignoring the other half of that dilemma.  She is trying to present this issue as though the choices she
discusses were purely individual ones that don't affect anyone beyond
the person making them, and that is manifestly untrue.


Filed under Grr, argh