On Pediatric Vaccines and Catholic Social Teaching
In terms of the basic risk calculus that parents are supposed to perform as a matter of due diligence and informed consent, pediatric vaccines pose a peculiar problem in today’s environment, where the reigning emphasis on autonomy in bioethics champions self-interest as the key to rational thinking. According to this view of rationality, the best choice for a rational actor to make can only yield an optimal outcome if no one else in the community acts on a similarly self-interested basis. If, however, everyone proceeded as a self-interested rational actor, then everyone would end up with greater risks. Consequently, the best-case scenario for the individual is at odds with the best-case scenario for the community as a whole. One can easily see why so many parents are troubled by this choice. Fortunately, Catholic social teaching is especially adept at navigating tensions between individual goods and the common good because it begins with an affirmation of the rights of the individual while simultaneously insisting that the human person can only flourish within a well-maintained community. Furthermore, Catholic social teaching presumes a relational anthropology that challenges the reduction of rationality to self-interest alone, encouraging a view of pediatric vaccines that rejects the dilemma of an autonomy-based bioethics as a misinterpretation of moral responsibility. In this way, Catholic social teaching offers the resources to calm the fears of anxious parents while also promoting public health and thus the common good.