Over the last several weeks, a New South Wales’ daily newspaper has pursued a campaign to influence policy change relating to the compulsory immunisation of children attending day care and school facilities. It is known as the No Jab. No Play campaign.
On Sunday, 26 May 2013, SBS also broadcast their Jabbed documentary about childhood immunisation and the differing views expressed in the community about the need for and benefits of immunisation.
The topic can engender the expression of heated and extreme sentiments by some. In the 27 May edition of the Daily Telegraph, Sarah Le Marquand describes the vitriolic responses she received in response to an opinion piece wrote earlier this year where she expressed criticism of certain aspects of the anti-immunisation platform.
When parents do not agree about these issues for their own children, their dispute must be resolved in the Family Law Courts. These can be difficult cases in which the (usually) thoughtful and genuinely held views of one parent opposing a child’s immunisation clash with the preferences of the other parent, expressed with equal conviction and thoughtful care. Each parent wants an outcome, which they believe is best for their child.
A review of the recent article reported decisions dealing with disputes on this topic highlight an important constant; the expressed positions and preferences of the parents are treated with respect. To support his or her position, each parent is given an opportunity to place before the Court the evidence upon which he or she relies. No one is ridiculed or mocked. The parent opposing traditional immunisation is usually expressing a belief that is genuinely held by them and which is often one element of a comprehensive alternative lifestyle and philosophy.
For many, the science surrounding the benefits of immunisation appears clear, uncontroverted and compelling. The most persuasive advocates in this debate however, are those who can express their position without recourse to abuse and vitriol.
The cases are generally decided on the particular facts existing for that family. Such as a 2012 Melbourne case where a Family Court Judge ultimately ordered the child receive traditional immunisation in accordance with the government approved schedule.
In this case, the father supported immunisation and had arranged for his wife (not the mother of the child), to secretly begin the immunisation process with the child. The father knew the child’s mother was strongly opposed to immunisation yet he acted despite that knowledge. Not surprisingly the impact of the longstanding hostility and conflict between the parents was of great concern to the Judge but beyond the issue immediately before the Court relating to immunisation. In this case, the views and preferences of the mother were thoughtfully expressed and acknowledged by the Court. However, the Court ultimately accepted that it was in the best interest of the child to recommence and complete the traditional immunisation programme.
While the debate about these issues can become angry, heated and personal, the language of the Court room and the reported judgments should remind us that respect and courtesy must at all times be present in the conduct of this debate; the issues are too important for anything less.
Di Simpson is a Director at Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson Family Law Specialists, 18 Kendall Lane, New Acton, Canberra ACT 2601 and can be contacted on (02) 6212 7600.