Liability: The Legal Revolution and Its Consequences

By Peter W. Huber | Go to book overview
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11
Rights in Collision

STATE-SUPPORTED mass vaccination facilities were first instituted in England in 1808. A compulsory vaccination act was passed in 1853, the "guardians of the poor" being instructed to carry out the law. On February 27, 1902, the Board of Health for Cambridge, Massachusetts, adopted a new vaccination regulation. "Whereas, smallpox has been prevalent to some extent in the city of Cambridge and still continues to increase," the board declared, "be it ordered, that all the inhabitants of the city . . . be vaccinated or revaccinated." "Whoever . . . refuses or neglects to comply with such requirement," a Massachusetts law provided, "shall forfeit five dollars."

Henning Jacobson refused and neglected. He offered to prove that vaccination "quite often" caused serious and permanent injury, and that it was impossible to predict in advance what the results in any particular case might be. He maintained that as a child he had "been caused great and extreme suffering" by a disease produced by vaccination. "If injured," his lawyer further argued, "the person vaccinated is damaged without compensation. . . . Compulsion to introduce disease into a healthy system is a violation of liberty. . . . [A] compulsory vaccination law is . . . hostile to the inherent right of every free man to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best. . . . [T]he execution of such law against

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