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Forced Vaccination: the Tragic Legacy of Jacobson v. Massachusetts

Story at-a-glance -

  • The personal beliefs of Supreme Court judges may be reflected in the legal decisions they make — decisions that can have consequences for centuries
  • The tragic legacy of Jacobson v. Massachusetts haunts and defines public health law in the U.S. In this 1904 legal case, a minister objected to receiving a second smallpox vaccination, stating it might jeopardize his life
  • The Supreme Court decided citizens do not have the right to be free at all times, and endorsed the use of police power to uphold compulsory vaccination laws — a decision later used to promote eugenics

By Barbara Loe Fisher

There is a lot of talk these days about the beliefs of judges who will be appointed by a new president to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is an important conversation because what those judges believe will be reflected in the legal decisions they make, decisions that could have consequences for centuries.


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