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Jacobson v. Massachusetts

Exemption For Unfit Adult?

Although the Massachusetts statute exempted children whom a physician declared "unfit" for vaccination, it provided no exemption for adults. Jacobson claimed that the city ordinance was broad enough to require a person to submit to compulsory vaccination even when his physical condition might be such as to render such treatment dangerous to life and even cruelly oppressive. The Court held that Jacobson's case presented no such situation. Although Jacobson claimed that he had, as a child, reacted adversely to a vaccination and his son had experienced the same reaction, he did not offer to prove that as an adult, he was not a fit subject for vaccination. However, the Court took great pains to point out the limits of its ruling by acknowledging the possibility that in another case an adult might be entitled to an exemption. The Court said,

We are not inclined to hold that the statute establishes the absolute rule that an adult must be vaccinated if it be apparent or can be shown with reasonable certainty that he is not at the time a fit subject of vaccination, or that vaccination, by reason of his then condition, would seriously impair his health, or probably cause his death.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Jacobson v. Massachusetts - Significance, Compulsory Vaccination Lawful, Court Defers To Legislature, Exemption For Unfit Adult?, Impact