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Education Reporter

Injecting Common Sense
Illinois passes pro-parent vaccine bill
Fran Eaton
Fran Eaton
SPRINGFIELD, IL - The Illinois General Assembly last month unanimously approved S.B. 1305, which will protect parents from nuisance investigations by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for exercising their legal right to exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations. Governor George Ryan called the measure "a good piece of legislation," and promised to sign it into law.

For the past several years, Illinois families have reported emotional and financial suffering as a result of DCFS investigations, despite the fact that state law permits vaccine exemptions based on medical or religious grounds. Medical exemptions must be signed by a physician. Religious exemptions must clearly define the parents' religious beliefs and how they lead to mandatory vaccination exemption.

"We've heard story after story from families under investigation by the DCFS," states Illinois pro-family leader Fran Eaton, who serves on the Illinois Immunization Advisory Committee. "We learned of a mother with a young child afflicted with Downs Syndrome who was reported to the DCFS by her own pediatrician while she was still in his office because she wanted to delay her child's vaccinations for religious reasons. Another family had a DCFS social worker at their door within 24 hours of an emergency room visit because the parents refused a tetanus booster for their 10-year-old son."

Mrs. Eaton explains that, currently, anyone may file an allegation of "medical neglect or abuse" with the DCFS, even anonymously, and there are no repercussions for "false alarms" or "false filings." "Emergency room physicians and nurses are reporting children who are not 'on schedule' with their vaccinations," she says, "and pediatricians and family practitioners who disagree with a family's religious beliefs are reporting them to the authorities, initiating investigations for 'medical neglect or abuse.' "

After he was informed of these problems by constituents and pro-family leaders, Illinois Sen. Patrick O'Malley agreed to sponsor legislation to protect parents who want to make their own immunization choices for their children. The result was S.B. 1305, which states: "A child shall not be considered neglected or abused for the sole reason that the child's parent or other person responsible for the child's welfare failed to vaccinate, delayed vaccination, or refused vaccination for the child whether due to a waiver on religious or medical grounds as permitted by the law or otherwise."

"This bill is a wonderful victory for parents in Illinois," Mrs. Eaton observes. "It removes vaccination exemption or parent-determined [vaccination] schedule delay from the category of 'medical neglect or abuse,' which will restore peace to caring families. Additionally, S.B. 1305 will relieve the DCFS from an overload of investigations, allowing case workers to focus on situations that are truly harmful to innocent children."

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