Parents Disagree On Vaccinations: Who Gets To Decide?

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Vaccinations have been a growing part of public conversations for the last few years. With the pandemic that COVID-19 brought, questions remain around the eventual arrival of a vaccine and whether it will be widely accepted by the population. But what about when separated or divorced parents disagree on whether or not a child should be vaccinated? This was a question recently addressed by the Ontario Court of Justice.

A custody dispute that involves decision-making powers

The child involved in the issue was born in 2013 to a mother and father who have since separated. The case revolves around a larger issue of custody and access as well as decision-making powers.

The father sought an order that the child be placed in his custody and he have decision-making authority for issues such as health care, education, religion, culture, and language. The mother currently has primary custody of the child. She lives in Toronto, while the father lives in Orangeville.

We won’t get into the details of the custody issues today, but the mother was awarded sole custody of the child. What’s interesting, though, is that the father was granted sole-decision making authority in just one area – whether the child will receive a COVID-19 vaccination should one be made available.

Why the mother was awarded custody but not decision-making authority for a vaccine

The court was satisfied with the quality of the parenting decisions made by the mother to date. This includes her handling of the child’s vaccinations to date, though the court noted that the mother was slower than she should have been in getting the child her vaccinations to that point. In this case, though, the court was worried that the mother’s anti-vaccination views might prevent or delay the child’s opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The court cited a 2015 decision in which the same court stated that the scientific evidence available shows vaccinations to not be harmful to people and that the rationalization by people who oppose vaccinations is indefensible and illogical.

The court looked at the history of the mother and the father on the issue of vaccinations. The mother had been initially opposed to vaccinating the child as an infant, stating that vaccines bring too much risk. The mother claimed a religious exemption when enrolling the child at school, allowing the child to attend without vaccines. She did not tell the father she had done this. While the father had some initial concerns about vaccines, he is now supportive of the child receiving them.

The court did not order the child to be vaccinated, stating it’s a decision that will have to be made when more information is available. But the court did say that both parents should meet with the child’s doctor to discuss whether she should receive a vaccine. Only if the mother refuses to meet with the doctor or refuses to vaccinate the child will be father have unilateral decision-making authority on the matter. The court wrote, “I am satisfied that he has no bias against vaccinations in general, and will be able to decide this issue on the advice he receives.  If the father decides that the child should be vaccinated, and if the child’s regular doctor is prepared to administer the vaccination to the child, the father shall arrange with the child’s (doctor) to administer the vaccination.”

For questions that only a family law lawyer can answer, contact Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors at 519.973.1500 or contact us onlineOur team has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years, and so understandably, many prospective clients come to the firm through referrals from current or past clients, and also through referrals from lawyers, accountants, medical professionals and marriage counsellors.

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