When Is Enough Enough?

By

Leonard Zwelling

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/16/nyregion/vaccines-measles-nj-religious-exemptions.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/16/us/strobe-attack-epilepsy.html?searchResultPosition=1

Two stories caught my eye on the morning of December 17 in The New York Times. Neither had anything to do with impeachment. Neither was about mass shootings. Neither involved foreign policy—Israeli or otherwise. No these were stories that not only were American stories, they were uniquely American stories as I do not think they would occur anywhere else.

The first is happening in the state of New Jersey where the state legislature is considering becoming another state (along with New York, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia—an unusual grouping) to outlaw religious exemptions for vaccination for any student in any day care, school or college, private or public.

Now from a public health stand point this makes sense. There are many people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and the only way to protect them from contagious diseases like measles is through herd immunity which requires everyone who can be vaccinated to be so. There are many anti-vaxxers and others who claim that vaccines are dangerous (they aren’t) and also oppose the idea of the state impinging on their religious beliefs for the good of public health.

I get it. But it’s ludicrous. Some of us have spent our lives in medical research, including research into ways to detect, prevent and treat cancer. There is a vaccine that can prevent cancer—the HPV vaccine. It ought to be mandatory. There are times when the good of society outweigh an individual’s right to determine everything. Whether or not one is religious, surely it is manifestly beneficial to society (meaning actual humans) to prevent as many people from getting sick as possible, particularly when diseases like measles are involved. Measles is a dangerous disease. If it can be prevented, it ought to be, and I am really sorry if for some reason you interpret your religion as precluding you from participating in a community-wide vaccination program.

Does this mean the government is making you do something?

It does.

You can’t drive without a license and insurance. You cannot carry a gun without a permit. You have to pay taxes and you have to drive on the right side of the road. You don’t like any or all of these. Tough! The same ought to be true with vaccines.

The second story is even more disturbing. Apparently hackers have been using graphic interchange formats (GIFs) to send strobe lights to unsuspecting downloaders and causing those with epilepsy to have seizures as an act of political malevolence. The GIF in the story was aimed at an author, Kurt Eichenwald, and perpetrated by one John Rayne Rivello of Maryland because Eichenwald had written critically about President Trump. Fortunately, this attack, is in the courts and being treated as assault despite the fact that no one touched anyone else.

Am I going crazy or is the rest of the world?

I thought that I had lost my mind when watching the impeachment hearings, but upon greater thought, I do understand the GOP point of view. They are not arguing that Trump didn’t commit extortion or block Congress from getting information or access to his closest aides. They just don’t think that’s bad enough to impeach him. In other words, the Republican argument is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. And some Republicans have basically said as much.

But this?

That some states, even some not commonly considered forward thinking like Mississippi and West Virginia, can make laws to protect children may be a sign of hope. Like it or not, your personal beliefs should not stand in the way of public health. I get the slippery slope. If vaccines are good for the public health, what about outlawing smoking? I see the dilemma, but states and their legislators have to draw lines. In proposing this law, New Jersey is drawing a wise one.

As for on-line assault of epileptics, have we really fallen to that low a level and isn’t it typical that Trump is involved, even if he personally was not? He seems to have inspired the worst in people from white supremacists to Ukrainians.

I am glad that The New York Times chose to print these stories. I am saddened greatly, far more than by impeachment, that such bad behavior can go on. But, alas, it does.

Now that religion can be blamed for inhibiting public health and the internet can be used as a weapon of assault, there really seems to be no limit to what comes next.

These stories suggest that the American experiment in representative democracy goes on with real side effects to those experiments.

Leonard Zwelling