Vaccination of children and babies against diseases remains a hotly debated issue in Turkey with families taking their opposition to vaccination to the courts.
Though general consensus in the scientific community is in favor of vaccination and any hazard to human health due to vaccines is downplayed, parents are wary of having their children inoculated.
Different verdicts by two courts, one supporting the parents and the other supporting the state, brought the issue to the spotlight.
A local court rejected the state medical authority's demand for vaccination of a couple's twin infants while the Supreme Court of Appeals, the ultimate legal authority, struck down a request by parents and ruled parental permission may not be needed for vaccination.
In Ordu, a northern Turkish province, Hüseyin Ayyayla and his wife Reyhan opposed the local medical authority, which supervises the vaccination of newborn babies and older children, and did not have their twin children inoculated. The medical authority filed a lawsuit against the couple, seeking a court order for the vaccination against Hepatitis B. Hüseyin Ayyayla, a prosecutor, presented an elaborate defense to the court, basing his opposition to vaccines on various scientific studies. He defended that the vaccination of a child without parental approval and without medical emergency, violated patient's 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 have long-term damage on the body, as they were composed of genetically modified microbes. Lastly, he said physicians did not fully inform the parents on the potential risks of vaccines. The local court ruled in favor of the Ayyayla family in a verdict that may set a precedent for other families opposing the vaccination of their children.
Still, the local medical authority may appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court of Appeals, which may strike down the local court's ruling. In another case involving parents opposing the vaccination of their child, the top court ruled that parental permission was not necessary for certain vaccines. The Supreme Court of Appeals based its verdict on Turkish laws and international children's rights conventions, stating that parental permission would not be sought if parents oppose the vaccination without presenting any fair excuse and the opposition conflicted with the best interest of the child in terms of his or her health.
However, parents objecting to vaccinations may still win lawsuits as the Court of Appeals said in its ruling that parents in the above mentioned case did not present any evidence that backed their concerns on vaccines.
On the courts' rulings, the Ministry of Health released a statement and assured the public that vaccination was the best way to protect children against diseases. The ministry said studies could not find a direct link between autism and vaccinations and thimerosal, which although used in vaccines, its amount was below the level that could pose a risk to health. The statement said the high rate of vaccination in Turkey led to a decline in preventable diseases and deaths caused by these diseases.