Updated 28 March 2015
This article was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA.
Dr. Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. She is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.
This article reports on a recent case in France that may lead the French Constitutional Council to examine directly the questions of a parent’s freedom not to vaccinate and a child’s right to health.
Samia and Marc Larère, parents to a three year old and fifteen months old, have decided not to vaccinate them. A criminal charge was brought against them, by the government of France, for not giving their three year old the required vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and polio according to the French vaccination program. They were charged under two legal provisions–a provision in the Code of Public Health (le code de la santé publique, art. L.3116-4) that imposes a find of 3750 euros and up to six months in jail for those who do not receive, or allow those under their guardianship to receive, mandatory vaccinations, including parents (“Le refus de se soumettre ou de soumettre ceux sur lesquels on exerce l’autorité parentale ou dont on assure la tutelle aux obligations de vaccination prévues aux articles L. 3111-2, L. 3111-3 et L. 3112-1 ou la volonté d’en entraver l’exécution sont punis de six mois d’emprisonnement et de 3 750 Euros d’amende”). And a provision in the criminal code that criminalizes neglect of parental duties “to the point of risking the health… of a minor child”, with a fine of 30,000 euros and up to two years in prisons as penalty (article 227-17: “Le fait, par le père ou la mère, de se soustraire, sans motif légitime, à ses obligations légales au point de compromettre la santé, la sécurité, la moralité ou l’éducation de son enfant mineur est puni de deux ans d’emprisonnement et de 30 000 euros d’amende”).
The reason the Larères initially gave for declining to vaccinate their child was that they could not give her only the required vaccines–the only available vaccines, they said, had the required vaccines in combination with others, like Hepatitis B and meningococcal, which are not legally required and they were not willing to give the combination vaccine to their child. Upon further probing, however, the couple admitted they received a vaccine containing only the required vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur, but still refused to vaccinate claiming that the vaccine contained a “toxic product”.
It may have been this vaccine (pdf). It’s unclear which ingredients they were referring to. The product contains a number of ingredients that may be used to raise concern among those unfamiliar with their role in vaccines and the principle that the dose makes the poison. In fact, in the tiny amounts in vaccines (pdf), none of these ingredients is toxic (pdf).
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