IntroductionBiotechnical advances in vaccine therapy hold the promise of eradicating debilitating and life threatening diseases. The new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is just one such example. This vaccine specifically targets the most dangerous carcinogenic genotypes and other HPV vaccines in development may even be capable reversing disease in those already infected (Kirchheimer, 2005). Currently, researchers are developing vaccines against prostate cancer, HIV, melanoma, avian influenza, and diabetes, to name a few (Kirchheimer). Public health has embraced this recent resurgence in vaccine therapy for both its efficacy and economy. Vaccines present a relatively easy method of eliminating a myriad of diseases at a tremendous overall savings in healthcare dollars when compared to long-term disease treatment. However, this endeavor will only succeed if a large percentage of the population, up to 95% in some cases, become inoculated (Wood-Harper, 2005). Therein is the dilemma. Historically, voluntary compliance with vaccine protocols has been rather poor (Backer, 2005; Wood-Harper).
On the other hand, mandating vaccinations creates another set of problems, not the least of which includes moral and ethical considerations.
Bioethical IssuesEthical positions regarding the implementation of vaccine programs appear to be divided into diametrically opposed camps-those who favor voluntary compliance and those who advocate mandatory vaccination policy (Lo & Katz, 2005). Recent efforts to legislate mandatory inoculation of young girls against HPV have served to polarize this issue and incite contentious public debate (Vock, 2007).
Ritvo, Wilson, Willms, and Upshur (2005) suggest that ethical disagreements regarding mandatory vaccinations revolve around the following four themes: "autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance, and justice" (p. 521). Similarly, Gert, Culver, and Clouser (2006) provide a set of moral rules that correspond to these themes with regard to public policy. These moral rules prohibit killing, causing pain or disability and the deprivation of freedom or pleasure (Gert et al.). The justification...