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Med Law Int. 2000;4(3-4):223-43.

Vaccination and other altruistic medical treatments: should autonomy or communitarianism prevail?

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Faculty of Law, University of Hertfordshire, UK.


The publication of a report into a case where an organ donor's constraints on the race of potential recipients raises questions about whether respect for autonomy or communitiarianism should prevail in altruistic medical procedures. This article briefly reviews how autonomy and communitarianism are balanced in cadaveric and live organ donation, bone marrow donation, gamete donation, blood donation and vaccination. It criticizes vaccination policy for ostensibly respecting patient autonomy yet in practice compromising that autonomy in various ways. Vaccination is properly viewed as an altruistic medical procedure because some vaccines are of more good to society than to the vaccinee, who runs associated health risks. The conclusion is that there is a spectrum of attitudes to the value of autonomy, depending principally upon the invasiveness of the procedure. In most cases the autonomy-communitarianism balance is satisfactory, but this is not so in respect of cadaveric organ donation and vaccination. The article proposes that cadaveric organ donation should be governed by the communitarian law of well-publicised presumed consent. It proposes two alternatives for vaccination: that vaccination should be compulsory or, preferably, that procedures be modified so that parents have real autonomy in their decisions whether to vaccinate their children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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