Over the past few years, my wife has become a staunch antivaccinationist. (We have a son on the autism spectrum; she has bought into the discredited vaccine causation theory of autism.) She is unreachable on this topic; no facts or reason will move her from her position. Unfortunately, she has decided that our children are to have no further vaccinations. She will not compromise on this. I, of course, want our children to be protected from dangerous diseases and thus want them to be vaccinated. My question: What are my ethical obligations in this situation--to my wife, to my children, and to society? Going behind my wife's back and having the children vaccinated without her knowledge does not seem ethical. Agreeing to her demand that the children receive no further shots also seems unethical--this would put my kids at risk of disease, as well as other people. Telling my wife up front that I'm taking the children to get their shots, despite her objections, also seems problematic--they are her children also. What are my best choices here?

Oh boy, I really feel for you. I also have a son with autism spectrum, and as we both know, it is difficult enough dealing with that, even without the additional problem of an unreasonable spouse.

My advice is that you do a little homework and find some support in your area (and not among the nutbags who have bought into the antivaccinationist nonsense, because it has been medically proven that nonsense is absolutely what it is). Because your wife needs help, to put it rather bluntly. She is feeling victimized by something that is just terrible luck and that has nothing whatsoever to do with where she is pointing the finger of blame here.

But the other thing is that you really, really have a serious ethical problem here, which your questions shows you are aware of. Because your wife's adamant views now affet your otheer children, which puts not only them at risk--it also puts at risk any other children who might be exposed to your own children's (preventable) diseases. This could get really nasty, and could result in death and disability that is entirely preventable. if you think with compassions about the other children and those who love them, I think you will see that going along with your wife's mandate is simply not an ethical option for you.

I don't know if you feel that you two have talked this out, so that your powers of persuasion are exhausted. (Maybe you could present her with some of the medical evidence I mentioned--it's all over the internet, so find it!) But if you are at that point, then, as tough as this may sound, I think you are actually ethically obligated to take your children in for their vaccinations. And once you have done this (but not before, lest she try to do something to prevent you), then you must tell her that you have done it, and face the music of what this does to your relationship.

I realize that my advice may lead you into a world of difficulty with her. But I frankly see no other ethical option. You do not have the right to put minor children (yours or those of other parents) at risk for such grave diseases, which are preventable.

I think it is time for some "tough love," unless you still think you might be able to convince your wife to be more flexible heere!

I agree with Professor Smith. The only thing I would add may be obvious and may be something you've already tried. It sometimes helps to have third parties intervene to provide all the facts and arguments you would use to try to persuade your wife to change her mind. Here, your knowledge of who might influence her is useful. Would she trust your family's pediatrician or react harshly against him/her as a member of the 'vaccine conspiracy'? Her parents or yours? Mutual friends? While an 'intervention' would be extreme, making friends and family aware of a serious issue that affects the health of your children (and others) and enlisting their help might make it easier for your wife to back down without feeling pressured to do so solely by you. But should these methods fail, then Prof. Smith's suggestion seems appropriate.

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