These Rabbis Are Not Murderers
The previous post, The Lakewood Suicide Squad, is already the most-read post in all eight years of this blog, with over 24,000 hits. A number of comments described the rabbis opposing vaccinations as being murderers. That is a very strong term, and I believe it to be severely inappropriate.
Murder connotes an intentional act of taking people's lives. These rabbis most certainly do not want to kill anyone! They care about life just as much as anyone else. From their perspective, they simply do not see what they are doing as in any way leading to the loss of life. In fact, from their perspective, it is the pro-vaccine people who are causing children to suffer, and yet we wouldn't like them to call us child abusers! It would be more appropriate to use the term "murderer" for people who text while driving, because at least they are aware that they are doing something very dangerous. The anti-vaccine people have no idea that they are doing something dangerous.
The correct description for what these people are causing is involuntary manslaughter. This, indeed, was the court verdict for David and Ginger Twitchell, devout members of a Christian Science church who sincerely believed that the best thing to do for their sick children was to pray for them (which regrettably did not save their children from dying).
If someone opposes vaccination because they sincerely mistakenly believe vaccination to be harmful, does that make them a bad person? Well, if there is an abdication of their responsibility to analyze such topics carefully and properly, then this is a moral failing. You could argue that it's irresponsible for people to believe that they know better than not only virtually the entire medical establishment, but even the professionals in their very own communities that they generally respect (see the letter on the right, signed by the frum physicians of Lakewood; click to enlarge it). But I'm not entirely sure that the situation can be described this way. I think that many such people genuinely lack the ability/worldview which enables them to analyze this topic correctly. And as I explained in the previous post, it's a natural result of their non-rationalist approach in general.
(The people who are more morally accountable are those who accept that the anti-vaccination approach is dangerous, and yet still promote these rabbis as being Gedolim. Some such people also commented on the last post, and they were more concerned with me giving these Gedolim a bad name than with the fact of their promoting Gedolim who could be causing the deaths of children.)
People can do terrible things with the best of intentions. This also relates to a topic that came up recently with the passing of Rav Shmuel Auerbach. In my post The Elephant in the Room, I quoted some people who declared that Rav Shmuel was totally leshem Shamayim in everything that he did. That is absolutely true, but it doesn't count for as much as people seem to think. A person can have entirely pure motivations and yet still do terrible things. But on the other hand, it's easy to categorize riots and shutting down cities as being terrible deeds. A particular course of medical action/inaction, on the other hand, can only described as good/bad in terms of its effects.
So, in conclusion, I don't think that the anti-vaccination crowd can be described as evil people. They are well-meaning people who are just badly misguided. Unfortunately, in this case, innocent mistakes can have fatal consequences.
In future posts, I plan to discuss the question of on what grounds someone such as myself (and most readers), who have not engaged in extensive studies of medicine or the medical literature, can confidently conclude that vaccinations are necessary.