To immunise or not to immunise?

 By Breanna Deakes

By Breanna Deakes

That is the question, but what is the answer?

Whatever your view on immunising your child is, do you know how the Family Court will rule in the event a dispute arises between you and your former partner?

Please note the views contained in this article are not necessarily the views of the author or the firm but based on articles and facts sheets of experts from both fields and recent case law. Each case is unique and you should always obtain professional legal advice which is specific to your circumstances.

The issue of immunising children has flooded the media and social network sites, both creating and inflating a strong divergence of views amongst the public. Those views are largely centred on either immunising your child or not immunising your child. In response the Federal Government and the Opposition have taken steps to cease the childcare benefits and supplement to the family tax benefit of parents who are registered objectors to immunising their children without medical grounds or affiliated with religious groups who have their objection approved by the Federal Government.

There is another option that parents are choosing instead of opting to either immunise or not immunise their children. Some parents are choosing to utilise complementary or alternative medicines instead of traditional vaccines.

A complementary medicine is “used in conjunction with conventional medicine while alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine”.[1] Presumably the use of such methods will not class children as being immunised by the Federal Government for the purpose of eligibility to receive.

One alternative medicine that has been dealt with by the Family Court of Australia is the use of homeopathic treatments to “immunise” children. What is a homeopathic treatment and how effective is it?

Homeopathy

The practice of Homeopathy (or Homoeopathy) is over 200 years old and stems around the theory of “let likes cure likes[2].

The principle of homeopathy is based and centred on the belief “that substances that produce symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to treat similar symptoms in a sick person[3]. An example provided by the Australian Homoeopathic Association is the use of coffee cruda to treat insomnia.[4] Another example provided by the British Homeopathic Association is using medicine derived from onions to treat watery eyes.[5]

Each homeopathic practitioner has a different approach to their preparations and there is no centralized body to regulate the practice of homoepathy in Australia.”[6]

Homoeoprophylaxis

Homœoprophylaxis is the correct term to describe the homeopathic treatment used to protect a person against disease or illness.

The difference between homœoprophylaxis and traditional vaccination is that traditional vaccination relies on antibody formation while homœoprophylaxis does not.

The preparation of homoeopathic medicines consists of repeated dilution and shaking called ‘potentisation’. Homeopaths believe this process renders the remedies capable of stimulating the body’s natural healing forces.

After the 12th dilution, there is no discernible chemical trace of the original substance left in the medicine, but homeopaths believe the preparation retains the qualities of the original substance.”[7]

So is homœoprophylaxis effective? Well that depends on who you ask.

The Australian Register of Homoeopaths acknowledges that homoeoprophylaxis “does not guarantee immunity from infectious disease. (Immunisation also does not guarantee immunity).[8]

According to the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council “there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.[9]

Further, the British Homeopathic Associations position is that “There are no proven homeopathic substitutes for immunization.”[10] However, they claim that homeopathic medicines have been proven to successfully treat epidemics of infectious diseases like influenza by shortening the symptoms during outbreaks.

What about the risks associated with traditional vaccines?

There has been extensive debate and studies of the long term effects of traditional vaccinations and whether or not they are linked to serious long-term effects amongst children. There appears to be a consensus amongst conventional medical practitioners and evidence to suggest that there is either no long term risk of immunising your child or that the risk involved in complications from a disease if you do not immunise your child are higher than the risk of immunising your child.[11] There are some common short terms risks of immunisation such as local reactions and fever.

Public opinion on this issue is still very divided.

What does the Family Court say?

In the matter of Kingsford & Kingsford[12] parents of an 8-year-old child were in dispute about whether their child was to be immunised by homeopathic or traditional vaccines.

Amongst other things, the child’s mother sought that the child be immunised by homoeoprophylaxis and the father sought that the child be immunised by traditional vaccination.

During the proceedings, the child’s stepmother took the child to a medical centre where she was immunised by traditional vaccines without the child’s mother’s knowledge or consent. The stepmother had the consent of the child’s father and it was their intention for the child to be traditionally immunised as the stepmother was due to give birth shortly. “Prior to this incident the child had been immunised according to the homeopathic regime of vaccination.[13]

The mother filed affidavit evidence of the “simple and healthy way of life[14] that her and the child lived. For example, they ate organic food and did not use toxic products. The mother also provided evidence of her employment in the health and wellness industry and that the child attended a Steiner school, which accorded with their lifestyle. The father did not provide further evidence and relied upon the evidence of the single expert witness who was a conventional medical practitioner.

The mother’s expert was a well-regarded senior homeopath, leader of homeopathic education and an author on the subject also provided evidence to the Court. He concluded “that there are “minor potential benefits”…. to the child of… conventional vaccination but that the potential risks were “potentially significant” and that it is unnecessary to take any risks when the potential benefit is so marginal”.[15]

The single expert witness recommended “that the child be immunised traditionally and that she undertake a series of ‘catch up’ immunisation to bring her up to the standard level of traditional immunisation for a child of her age.”[16]

The Court accepted “that both forms of immunisation carry risks, but that the risks of both forms of immunisation are relatively low.” [17]

The Court concluded, “the efficacy of homoeopathic vaccines in preventing infectious diseases has not been adequately scientifically demonstrated[18] and found “that not immunising the child by way of conventional immunisation would expose her to a risk of harm through infection with a preventable disease which risk is unacceptable in the context of traditional immunisation practices. The risk of harm as a result of traditional vaccination is not so high as to outweigh the risk of infection.”[19]

The Court could not conclude, “that homeopathic immunisation is best for the child or that it is a realistic and effective alternative to traditional immunisation[20] and made orders amongst other things, for the child to be traditionally immunised.

The matter of Kingsford & Kingsford[21] gives an indication of how the Family Court may rule when faced with a dispute between parents with respect to immunisation. As mentioned above, each case is different and you should obtain advice which is specific to your circumstances.

Further information

For further information on parenting orders contact Carr & Co at contactus@carrco.com.au


[1] National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance. (2014). Homoepathy and vaccination
Retrieved from http://www.ncirs.edu.au/

[2] Australian Homoeopathic Association. (n.d.) Homoeopathy Explained
Retrieved from
http://www.homeopathyoz.org/homoeopathy.html

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] British Homeopathic Association. (n.d.). Homeopathy and immunisation
Retrieved from http://www.britishhomeopathic.org/

[6] National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance. (2014). Homoepathy and vaccination
Retrieved from http://www.ncirs.edu.au/immunisation/

[7] Department of Health Victoria. (2015). Homeopathy
Retrieved from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Homeopathy

[8] The Australian Register of Homoeopaths. (2013.) AROH Statement on The Use of Homoeopathic Medicines for Prophylaxis
Retrieved from http://www.aroh.com.au/Resources/Documents/

[9] The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council. (2015). NHMRC Statement: Statement on Homeopathy
Retrieved at https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/

[10] British Homeopathic Association. (n.d.). Homeopathy and immunisation
Retrieved from http://www.britishhomeopathic.org/

[11] Department of Health Victoria. (2015). Immunisation – facts and misconceptions
Retrieved from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

[12] Kingsford v Kingsford [2012] FamCA 889

[13] Ibid 3

[14] Ibid 18

[15] Ibid 111

[16] Ibid 59

[17] Ibid 119

[18] Ibid 116

[19] Ibid 120

[20] Ibid 124

[21] Kingsford v Kingsford [2012] FamCA 889

Other resources:

(http://www.kidspot.com.au/homeopathic-immunisation-fact-fiction/)

(http://www.homstudy.net/Research/)

Categories: Articles & News, Children’s and Parenting Issues, and Perth Family Lawyers Information.