Does the the "privacy" protection afforded by the Bill of Rights covers unwanted medical treatments, including unwanted drug taking, notably mandatory vaccines?

  • Where is there mandatory vaccination in the US?
    – Dale M
    Oct 30, 2019 at 23:44
  • @DaleM Mandatory at least for children to attend school, or to have the right to freely move around...
    – curiousguy
    Oct 30, 2019 at 23:45
  • That's not "mandatory" - that's a prerequisite to receiving services the government "chooses" but is not required to offer.
    – Dale M
    Oct 30, 2019 at 23:46
  • @DaleM That's a requirement for enjoying the right to public education (is there such thing)? Also, there is the case of not being allowed to enter public spaces like park, AFAIK.
    – curiousguy
    Oct 30, 2019 at 23:47
  • 1
    @curiousguy As a sidenote, there is no general right to public education under the US constitution. See San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) ("Education, of course, is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Constitution. Nor do we find any basis for saying it is implicitly so protected."). You can read a brief here: oyez.org/cases/1972/71-1332
    – xuhdev
    Nov 1, 2019 at 9:08

1 Answer 1


It probably does, up to a point. Roe v. Wade asserts a right to privacy, discussed in §VIII. Granting that there is no explicit enumeration of a right to privacy in the Constitution, its implicit presence is discerned via a long series of constitutional rulings of a diverse nature. It is not clear what is the extent of

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people...

However, even in the case of explicitly recognized rights, they are not absolute: you cannot commit fraud or threaten a person with death and escape punishment by citing the 1st Amendment, you cannot own a machine gun and cite the 2nd in your defense. Fundamental rights are strongly protected, but they may be limited in a fashion that survives strict scrutiny. This means that the encroachment is necessary to a "compelling state interest", it is "narrowly tailored" towards that end, and is the "least restrictive means" to achieve that end.

The question arose in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S. 11 where Jacobson was criminally arraigned for refusing to comply with a mandatory vaccination law (applicable to all persons over 21). The court noted that

the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good.

The liberty secured by the 14th Amendment, this court has said, consists, in part, in the right of a person 'to live and work where he will'...; and yet he may be compelled, by force if need be, against his will and without regard to his personal wishes or his pecuniary interests, or even his religious or political convictions, to take his place in the ranks of the army of his country, and risk the chance of being shot down in its defense...

According to settled principles, the police power of a state must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.

The right to compel vaccination is reaffirmed in Zucht v. King, 260 U.S. 174.

There is currently no mandatory vaccination law applicable to adults; were such a law to be created (analogous to the earlier Mass. law regarding smallpox vaccination), it could easily pass judicial review as long as it is "minimalist". The question of "compelling government interest" would distinguish between mandatory Ebola or zombie-fever vaccinations vs. shingles or (ordinary) flu. School-related vaccination laws are the most minimal way to achieve the desired outcome, so a law requiring everybody to submit might not pass a strict scrutiny review.

  • Ebola is infectious enough that a school vaccination program would be mostly ineffective; it would take several generations before a herd immunity would arise. But that merely underlines your observation that each case needs to be judged on its merits.
    – MSalters
    Oct 31, 2019 at 0:48
  • What is the "desired outcome" of "school-related vaccination laws"?
    – curiousguy
    Oct 31, 2019 at 0:51
  • 2
    Nullifying certain dangerous infectious diseases. The courts accept the premise that protecting the populace is a governmental interest.
    – user6726
    Oct 31, 2019 at 1:24
  • @user6726 No vaccine "nullifies" anything; they offer partial and temporary protection. At least smallpox is extremely dangerous. Measles was considered a mild childhood disease in the 70ties (which it is almost always is).
    – curiousguy
    Nov 1, 2019 at 0:50

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