Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals boosts anti-vaccine parents

Daily Sabah | 4 May 2016

The Supreme Court of Appeals, the ultimate appeals authority in the country, sided with parents opposed to vaccinating of their children in a recent case, paving the way to end legal battles for parents opposed to vaccination

In a ruling that will bolster legal battles for parents opposed to the forced vaccination of their children, the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay), also known as the Court of Cassation, ruled that the state cannot force children to be vaccinated, citing an earlier ruling by the Constitutional Court, the highest legal authority.

The Yargıtay’s Second Law Chamber said in a ruling regarding a recent case that the Constitutional Court’s verdict should be respected and that lower courts that ordered forced vaccination were violating the rights of individuals.

Vaccination has long been a controversial issue in Turkey, as several parents over the past few years have filed lawsuits against the Health Ministry, which oversees the vaccination of children. Parents cite “scientific” studies indicating the side effects of vaccines to back their legal claims. These “studies” have been debunked and there is only one, which was later recalled.

Last year in a landmark verdict, the Constitutional Court ruled that mandatory vaccination carried out by the Health Ministry against the consent of parents contradicted the constitutional rights of parents. The top court’s ruling said that parents cannot be forced to have their children vaccinated, even if they are ordered by the courts and there needs to an amendment in the law concerning mandatory vaccination.

Lower courts have issued different rulings in cases regarding vaccination, either siding with the state or with the parents opposing the vaccination.

The Supreme Court discussed the issue with Health Ministry officials and previously agreed with the ministry, supporting mandatory vaccination, as there were “no findings that vaccination was not for the benefit of children.” However, after the Constitutional Court assessed the case of Mustafa Aysal, a father opposing vaccination, they decided that mandatory vaccination violated rights, while lower courts increasingly issued pro-vaccination verdicts.

The Supreme Court of Appeals, assessing a recent ruling in favor of mandatory vaccination, said lower courts couldn’t contradict a higher court ruling against vaccination.

Although the general consensus in the scientific community is in favor of vaccination, and any hazard to human health due to vaccines is compared to the greater harm caused by the illnesses vaccinated against, many parents are wary of having their children vaccinated.

The conflict between rights and social duty was highlighted in a case in the northern city of Ordu. Hüseyin Ayyayla and his wife Reyhan opposed the local medical authority, which supervises the vaccination of newborn babies and older children and refused the vaccination of their twin children. The medical authority filed a lawsuit against the couple, seeking a court order for vaccination of the twins against Hepatitis B. Hüseyin presented an elaborate defense to the court, basing his opposition on various scientific studies concerning the negative effect of vaccines. He argued that the vaccination of a child without parental approval and without medical emergency violated parental rights. Presenting various medical studies to the court, the father cited findings of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, in some vaccines that reportedly led to autism. He further claimed vaccines might do long-term damage to the body, as vaccines are composed of genetically modified microbes. Ayyayla also said physicians did not fully inform parents of the potential risks of vaccines. The local court ruled in favor of the Ayyayla family in a verdict that set a precedent for other families opposing the forced vaccination of their children.

Ministry of Health officials said that studies could not find a direct link between autism, vaccinations and thimerosal, which although used as a preservative in vaccines, is present at levels that do not pose a risk to health. The ministry has said that the high rate of vaccination in Turkey led to a decline in preventable diseases, as well as deaths caused by these diseases. The ministry requires Turkish newborns be given 16 different vaccinations in the first two years after birth.

Parents have claimed in separate cases that vaccinations are an external intervention while infants are developing their natural immunity, and that intervention thwarts natural development. They also argue vaccination cannot be made mandatory under existing laws, given the constitutional rights of citizens. Though Turkish law requires consent from parents before vaccination, several laws say the state can carry out forced vaccination in cases regarding public safety.

Parents opposed to vaccination believe certain vaccinations against diphtheria, whooping cough will induce side effects, notably autism.

Currently, under Turkish law, parents are not obliged to have their children vaccinated, provided they sign an official document holding them responsible for their action. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies tracks such cases and all such cases are eventually taken to court.

The anti-vaccination movement is not exclusive to Turkey, and a global movement against compulsory inoculation has gained traction, although they occasionally face opposition from authorities. In the United States, three states have introduced mandatory immunizations, requiring children enrolling in schools to be immunized against diseases.

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