The Covid-19 pandemic has led to enormous interest in vaccinations with heated arguments from both sides of the debate. With children now receiving vaccinations for Covid-19, the medical, ethical, and legal issues surrounding immunisation will continue to draw interest and disputes.
Many parents may wonder whether they can immunise their children without the knowledge or consent of the other parent. We discuss the legal implications of parental disputes about childhood immunisation.
Both parents have parental responsibility for their children unless the court has made and order to the contrary. Parental responsibility gives the parents legal rights, duties, authority, and responsibilities.
If parents make an application to the court for a parental order, the court will start with the presumption that they have shared and equal parental responsibility. Since this is a rebuttal presumption, a parent who wants the presumption changed must prove that the other parent should not have equal parental responsibility.
The Family Act of 1975 requires parents to consult with one another in an attempt to reach consensus about major long-term issues.
In terms of the law, major long-term issues include the following
As you can see, the major long-term issues revolve around the child’s health and welfare. Immunisation is considered a major long-term issue because it affects the health of the child.
Many parents disagree about whether or not their children should receive vaccinations of any kind. Still others, may object to a specific type of jab such as the vaccination for Covid-19. Though the law requires that the parents consult one another in an attempt to reach consensus, sometimes they can’t agree.
There are many cases that have been through the Family Court where the court has ordered the child vaccinated even when the parents don’t consent.
Though the court has the power to override the parent’s wishes, it will not do so without careful thought and consideration of all the facts.
When will the court issue an order for vaccination?
In the case of Mains and Redden, the mother worried about the risk of the side-effects her child might suffer if the father were to get his way and vaccinate the child. The mother had had the misfortune to suffer an unpleasant response to a vaccination herself as a child.
Both parents brought with them several medical experts and specialists, each trying to prove their point. Even the experts didn’t always agree. The court ordered the child vaccinated but the mother appealed the finding.
Both parties were able to lead further expert evidence at the appeal. A doctor suggested that they carry out small tests, rather than the full vaccine schedule to determine whether the child would have an adverse response to the vaccinations.
The court decided to allow the matter to go through a court again and hear all the new evidence including that emanating from the appeal process.
The Family Court always makes its decisions in the best interests of the child. You can never be certain of the outcome when you lodge a dispute.