Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay Assignment Paper

Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay Assignment Paper

Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay Assignment Paper


Vaccination is associated with one of the most dramatic ethic controversies in the field of medicine when it comes to possible side effects and complications. The development and introduction of new vaccines throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s was a turning point in public health as it helped significantly reduce serious healthcare burden, largely dropping the infection incidence rate (Betáková et al. 92). Frequently, the injection of vaccines can lead to the occurrence of some mild side effects such as fever, rash, swelling, etc.Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay

It is possibly worthwhile undertaking the risk of having those side effects when compared to possible severe flu- or measles-related complications including blindness, encephalitis, and so on. However, some researchers and parents express the concern that thimerosal used in several vaccines as a preservative can trigger the development of autism in vaccinated children (Colaizzo 1). However, this compound is still used in the production of some vaccines, e.g., flu vaccine, because researchers could not find a direct link between the exposure to it and the onset of autism in children. Thus, global and national organizations including the Academy of Pediatrics recommend using vaccines containing thiomersal because the benefits related to the procedure significantly outweigh any hypothetical safety risks.

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Utilitarianism: overview

Due to the multidimensionality of the matter, there is no single answer to it, and it can be interpreted from different ethical points of view. From the utilitarian perspective, an action or decision may be considered ethical if it leads to the attainment of the greatest possible benefit. In utilitarianism, virtue does not depend on the conformity with morals and standards of behavior but rather on consequences. Moreover, according to Mill’s basic principle of utility, an action can be considered ethical when it contributes to the happiness of every party (or the public) involved in a situation, and unethical – when it interferes with the creation of happiness. Overall, such a consequentialist approach in decision making can “lead to harm to some individuals while the net outcome is a maximum benefit” (Mandal et al. 6).

The utilitarian solution to vaccination

When thinking about the thiomersal controversy in terms of epidemiology, utilitarianism seems to justify the administration of vaccines because the chances of vaccine-related complications in individual cases are significantly low compared to the chances of new epidemic development in non-vaccinated communities. For example, influenza can cause a few million cases of severe illness and lead to mortality in half a million cases per year globally, while flu immunization may provide nearly 80% degree of protection against the virus and its complications. At the same time, Colaizzo claims that the decades of research provide no evidence to verify the link between vaccination and autism development in children and states that the cases of any adverse effects in children remain relatively low (1). In this situation, healthcare institutions and practitioners will have the final say in decision making regarding immunization and will decide in its favor because it helps support public health. At the same time, parents will not be able to influence this decision substantially as the refusal to vaccinate their children may pose a threat to the community as a whole.Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay


The utilitarian ethical stance raises the issue of paternalism when taking into account the situation in which a greater power to decide in favor of or against vaccination is given to the healthcare institution. Traditionally, paternalism is defined as “interference with a person’s liberty of action justified by reason referring exclusively to the welfare… of the person being coerced” (Buchanan 15). It means that authority figures may reduce patients’ autonomy when their behaviors or decisions are potentially harmful. The main purpose of paternalism is thus the prevention of mortality and morbidity either in individuals or in society as a whole. However, one should consider two of the primary criteria for the justification of paternalist attitudes, namely, the necessity, and the least infringement (Buchanan 16). The mentioned above evidence on risks for the harmful effects of vaccines and their avoidance implies that healthcare institutions’ insistence on immunization may be consistent with these when individual and collective benefits are compared. Nevertheless, from a patient and caregivers’ point of view, the paternalist attitude of healthcare organizations contradicts the ethical principle of utility because the procedure does not imply equal chances for living a happy life for all involved parties and provokes a risk of harm to children.Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay

Mill’s principle of utility

When applying a utilitarian perspective to a situation when doctors promote vaccines and pharmaceutical companies share common financial interests and insist on immunization neglecting, vaccination cannot be regarded as ethically justified action as well because the practice of advertising in healthcare as such contradicts Mill’s principle of utility. In this case, an apparent conflict of interests between the industry and parents occurs, and parents may refuse to vaccinate children as having a financial stake in a pharmaceutical organization may contribute to doctors’ engagement in non-rational prescribing behaviors, which compromises their ethical obligation to benefit patients. Considering unbiased clinical decision making as one of the major rules in medical practice aimed to promote utility, i.e., maximum benefits for patients (parents) and the public, the promotion of drugs due to commercial influences can be regarded as a rule-breaking behavior that may entail multiple adverse effects at the individual, community, and healthcare levels. In this situation parents’ refusal of immunization is reasonable.Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay

Deontological perspective

“In contrast to the utilitarian concept, deontology is ethics of duty where the morality of an action depends on the nature of the action, i.e., the harm is unacceptable irrespective of its consequences” (Mandal et al. 6). Therefore, the decisions made in the deontological context will instead benefit individuals and may not necessarily induce positive outcomes to the public. Public healthcare institutions are generally utilitarian ideologists because they try to achieve good for the greatest number of people, yet some members of the medical staff may be deontological ideologists and deviate from generalized utilitarian rules in some cases when potential harm to individuals due to intervention may arise. Thus, it is possible to say that parents have more power to contribute to decision making in deontological ideology than in the utilitarian one because if a doctor neglects the individual needs and interests of a patient, he or she goes against the professional duty and the principle of nonmaleficence.Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay

Virtue ethics

The major idea in virtue ethics is somewhat similar to the one suggested from a utilitarian perspective. According to Aristotle, all human actions have the sole purpose of achieving happiness, and the behavior may thus be considered virtuous only in case one aims to attain this highest goal. At the same time, every individual has a personal understanding of happiness – it is a subjective notion. Virtue can be practiced only through activities, which reflect individual interests and preferences. Thus, ethical virtue can be regarded as a product of practical activity aimed at the individual’s happiness. It is worth noticing that in healthcare, each decision regarding interventions “results from the virtuous moral character of the doctor” (Kotzee et al. 1).Vaccines with Thiomersal in Medical Ethics Essay

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