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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

And now for something completely different...

...a new phrase for your water cooler conversations: "Amoral familism." To quote from the link, it is

Social action persistently oriented to the economic interests of the nuclear family. In a controversial account of poverty in a village in southern Italy (The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, 1958), Edward C. Banfield argued that the backwardness of the community was to be explained ‘largely but not entirely’ by ‘the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family’.

A similar ethos obtains elsewhere, as in the grim Arab proverb: "Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, and me and my cousin against the stranger."

And it also applies increasingly to American culture, as we see in this jackass spectacle of a wealthy cardiologist expressing no empathy whatsoever for people outside of his immediate family. It started with a plea from a pediatrician and parent of a leukemia victim:

Dr. Tim Jacks, an Arizona pediatrician, wrote a blog post chastising  parents whose are not vaccinating their children after his two children were exposed to measles by a woman who reportedly picked up the disease while visiting Disneyland. Adding to Jacks’ concern is his 3-year-old daughter, Maggie, who suffers from leukemia and whose immune system is compromised due to chemotherapy, making her vulnerable to the disease which can lead to death.

Jacks wrote, “I assume you love your child just like I love mine. I assume that you are trying to make good choices regarding their care. Please realize that your child does not live in a bubble. When your child gets sick, other children are exposed. My children. Why would you knowingly expose anyone to your sick unvaccinated child after recently visiting Disneyland? That was a bone-headed move.’

He went on to say the family had to cancel a trip in order to monitor the children for measles as well as protect against any other infections, writing, “Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else. On that note, thanks for exposing 195 children to an illness considered ‘eliminated’ from the U.S. Your poor choices don’t just affect your child. They affect my family and many more like us.”

Now, perhaps Dr. Jacks could have phrased it more gently and irenically--in fact, he probably should have. But at least he tried to credit love and a little good faith to the other side.

Enter the heart (the much-abused irony meter explodes again...) doctor:

Responding to Jacks’ post, Arizona cardiologist Wolfson said the familiy’s health issues are theirs, and he shouldn’t have to keep his unvaccinated children away from other kids.
Wolfson, who refuses to vaccinate his two young sons, said, “It’s not my responsibility to inject my child with chemicals in order for [a child like Maggie] to be supposedly healthy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very likely that her leukemia is from vaccinations in the first place.”

“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” he added. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

Asked if he could live with the idea that his unvaccinated child could cause another child to become gravely ill, the cardiologist was dismissive.

“I could live with myself easily. It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child,” he said,before adding, “If a child is so vulnerable like that, they shouldn’t be going out into society.”

Translation--screw you and your kids. Only mine count.

And lest you think Dr. Lucius "Purity!" Malfoy was misquoted or something, here he is revelling in the attention and offering conspiracy theories worthy of a man who debates lampposts.

I would like to report that Dr. Malfoy is an outlier, but he's not. Thankfully few anti-vaxxers are this brazen, but too many of them are incapable of expressing even the slightest empathy for the elderly, the infant, the weak and the medically-compromised. They can't even fake it. I spoke with a couple yesterday before leaving the conversation in disgust. They differed only in degree from the heart doctor. Not in kind.

I'm not in favor of mandatory vaccinations. We ourselves vaccinate, but I think there should be the option to refuse vaccines in certain situations. However, I have no problem with affixing financial, insurance and legal liabilities to those who refuse. It's all part of the calculation of risk.

And, yes, of course your kids are your first responsibility. Nobody's arguing that. But you don't live in a vacuum, and probably not even in an isolated area. We are social beings, and we owe certain responsibilities to each other in order to make civilization work. At a minimum, it requires an effort to understand each other and to not contemptuously dismiss real and valid medical concerns.

The bottom line is that if a mandatory vaccination program is ever imposed, it will owe a lot to the callousness of anti-vaxxers, and their inability to express even a modicum of sympathy for the weak.

[Update: And, just to be abundantly clear, I will not be hosting a vaccination debate here. If you'd like to post something along those lines, there are plenty of such places on the internet where you can do so.]


  1. Kind of ambivalent about this, but why is Dr. Wolfson's attitude any different really than Dr. Jacks's? Dr. Wolfson says his kids' health should not be risked for the sake of Dr. Jacks's kids; and Dr. Jacks says his kids' health shouldn't be risked for the sake of Dr. Wolfson's kids. To me, they seem to mirror each other - both want the other's kids to take the risk to lessen that for their own. Let's not "kid" ourselves - Dr. Jacks is not concerned about kids in general, he is concerned about the risk to his own no less than Dr. Wolfson.

    1. Clearly both focus on their children. I think the distinction between them [bracketing Wolfson's quackery about getting leukemia from shots] is that Wolfson clearly does not give a shit about other people. Other vulnerable people being collateral damage to his purity? If they die, they die.

      Put another way: if Jacks has to cocoon his kids in certain circumstances, then Wolfson should be similarly open to cocooning his. Unless others don't count. And to him, they clearly do not.

      It's pretty clear to me that the Wolfson mindset will get us mandatory vaccinations faster than Jacks'. That would be a disaster, I'm afraid.

  2. Dale, I've missed reading this sort of thing from you.

    And yes, I agree.

  3. Because someone has an MD after his name does not mean that they have sufficient moral reasoning even though they have the capacity. I administered the MMPI to med school candidates and let's just say, certain quirks are valued.

  4. Mandatory Vaccination would be a disaster for medicine and society at large. All vaccines are drugs, and like any drugs have tradeoffs of benefits to cost that all patients must assess in consultation with educated professionals.

    That said, there are many sad things that may lead to this more than one callous sounding person. One is that many so-called professionals have a degree but are not educated, but merely trained. Another is that the very set of the reporting on the Measles outbreak has been pointed to create inflate this into a conflict that seems designed to toss patients rights out the window - just look at the labels we now have to use that reduce this into an either-or conflict.

    Of course, there is more to the story.

    Third, there is also the sad fact that some of the vaccines they want to jab us with at the point of a gun are immorally produced because they are made with aborted fetal cell lines. This is true of the Rubella vaccine incorporated in the Merck MMR-II, as well as the Varivax chicken-pox / Shingles vaccine. In both of those cases, ethical alternatives are either uninvented or only available outside of the U.S.