Compulsory Vaccination

2012-06-07 10:51:15


The question of whether or not one can be forced to submit to a medical vaccination against a contagious disease pits the police power of the states found in Amendment X against the rights of the individual to due process in Amendment XIV. The police power is generally understood to include the requisite powers to secure the health, safety, and general welfare of the population. The question of Compulsory Vaccination reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1905 case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Because of the potential for deadly outbreaks of smallpox, the State of Massachusetts enacted a law that permitted cities to require residents to be vaccinated against the disease and provided for a fine of five dollars for failure to obtain the vaccination. Jacobson argued that he could not be compelled to submit to vaccination, because it would violate his constitutional rights under the Preamble and Amendment XIV. The requirement was, he asserted, unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive and interfered with his right to care for his own body and his own health. The Supreme Court quickly dismissed the allegation that the Preamble to the Constitution was the ‘‘source of any substantive power,’’ but considered the question of whether the Massachusetts law violated the due process clause of Amendment XIV. Justice Harlan, writing for the majority, noted that many restraints are placed on an individual’s liberties, but that these are necessary to protect the health of the larger community; a person or minority of people cannot dominate the greater good. The state could constitutionally require individuals to be vaccinated.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905)