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To immunise? Or not to immunise? - when parental responsibility is thrown into light

Family Law: 23 March 2019

The issue of whether or not to immunise your child is one that raises many concerns and divided opinions for parents. Regrettably, this is even further heightened when parents are separated and unable to communicate effectively around the topic.

The conundrum of reconciling immunisation with parental responsibility was expounded in the recent Family Court judgment of Duke -Randall & Randall [2014] FamCA 126. Although this is not the first time in which the issue of immunisation has been addressed by the Family Court, it is an increasing area of dispute between separated parents and their competing notions of what is in their child's best interests.

In this particular case, after protracted litigation spanning close to three years, Justice Foster of the Family Court sitting in Parramatta was asked to consider whether two children aged 12 and 10 years should be routinely vaccinated. At the time of the three-day trial on this discreet issue, the father, who was in favour of the immunisation, had sole parental responsibility for the children and they resided with him for the majority of time. However, there was an injunction in place restraining both parents from allowing the children to undergo any medical procedure save for in an emergency.

Expert medical evidence was relied upon by the father in support of his application together with arguments that the children were forced to be excluded from extra-curricular activities and school events on account of not being immunised. The mother argued that there were more natural methods of treatment available instead of vaccinating the children and sought to adjourn and delay the matter until the issue of immunisation was no longer relevant.

Justice Foster agreed with the evidence of the medical expert and the father in finding that it was in the children's best interests to be vaccinated and made orders that the father be at liberty to immunise the children and allow them to undertake a catch up vaccination regime.

Ultimately, this matter exemplifies the manner in which parental responsibility has far-reaching consequences for children and can be the subject of costly debate.  

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