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Bob is a clinically vulnerable adult that has a weak immune system. Eve is one of Bob's friends. Eve has been offered a vaccine for a widely spread and contagious disease that has the potential to kill Bob if he caught it from Eve. Eve does not take this vaccine, as she does not think it will affect her and it goes against her beliefs/morals.

Unfortunately, Eve catches this disease and then passes it on (transmits) it to Bob. As a result, Bob becomes ill and dies. Could Eve be tried for murder, manslaughter, or some other crime, as she chose not to be vaccinated against a disease that she (in-directly) passed on to Bob and killed him?

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    How do you prove Bob caught the disease from Eve, rather than Carol who he stood next to in the supermarket or Dave who came round to fix the air conditioner?
    – JamesPD
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 10:24
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    Does Eve know she is infected or is she asymptomatic?
    – user35069
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 11:54
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    Furthermore, is Eve aware that refusing the vaccine puts Bob in danger?
    – AsheraH
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 13:02
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    @Ryan_L I never said it would be Covid, it could be any infectious disease (flu, SARS, swine flu, etc.) Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 17:35
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    Dear God. Why does everyone want to fight with the question instead of answering it? The question is not about what evidence is required to sustain the conviction, but rather whether the facts would support a criminal charge.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 17:51

2 Answers 2

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As a result, Bob becomes ill and dies. Could Eve be tried for Murder, Manslaughter, or some other crime, as she chose not to be vaccinated against a disease that she (in-directly) passed on to Bob and killed him?

There are basically two distinct issues here. What is the duty? And if a duty was breached, what intent is necessary to breach it?

There is not a legal duty to be vaccinated. There is a duty to use reasonable care not to hurt others. The duty not to hurt others could be satisfied by not seeing Bob in person, by wearing a mask around Bob or by having other non-transmission means available, in addition to being vaccinated. But Eve didn't do any of these things.

We don't know if Eve had any reason to think that she presented a risk of infection to Bob because she could have passed the virus to him while she was asymptomatic.

We also know, by the assumption of the question, that Eve was the source of the infection. But, in real life, proving the source of an infection beyond a reasonable doubt is very challenging or impossible. This must be established for any homicide crime.

There is no indication that Eve knew she was transmitting the virus to Bob, or that Eve intended to transmit the virus to Bob (if she intentionally spat in Bob's face intending to infect him that would be a different matter). At most, her conduct was reckless, but if she was asymptotic and has no idea that she was doing something that was actually putting Bob at risk, her intent could be as slight as negligent (for tort law purposes only) or criminally grossly negligent.

Since she lacked the necessary intent to commit murder (i.e. either an intention to kill, or an intention to inflict grievous bodily harm), she could not be guilty of the offense of murder.

There are three types of voluntary manslaughter in England, none of which apply here: "There are three types of voluntary manslaughter: that resulting from loss of self-control; that resulting from statutorily defined diminished responsibility; and killing in perseverance of a suicide pact."

So, this leaves involuntary manslaughter as the most serious possible homicide offense. Involuntary manslaughter could encompass either reckless conduct (i.e. "the unlawful act must be such that all sober and reasonable people would inevitably recognise it as an act which must subject the other person to at least the risk of some harm resulting therefrom albeit not serious harm") and is usually in furtherance of some other criminal offense, or in the case of "gross negligence manslaughter", negligent conduct that is a far greater level of wrongdoing than the negligence that would suffice for civil tort liability.

Gross negligence manslaughter is the most plausible charge and is itself a hard call that involves judgement and discretion on the part of the trier of fact (i.e. the judge in a bench trial, and the jury in a jury trial) that is exercised on a case by case basis considering all of the circumstances. Also, to be clear, the wrongful act in a gross negligence involuntary manslaughter case would be transmitting the virus (which could have been prevented multiple ways) and not failing to get vaccinated itself.

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    Back in the '80s and 90's in America there were cases of people with HIV/AIDS who deliberately sought out casual unprotected sex enounters in a spiteful way to infect others. It was back when HIV/AIDS was a death sentence, before viable treatments were available. I recall there were guilty convictions, but I don't remember if the charges were for murder or similar, or what the sentences were. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 19:34
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    @KirkHings A big factor was the greater ease of proving the identity of the source of the infection (i.e. causation). Some statutes were later passed to squarely address the issue in some states, rather than relying on case law reasoning.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 22:09
  • The pattern might shift if she was under a mandatory quarantaine/isolation order by the health authority. Some illnesses are so rare (think plague) that the mere occurrence of it in two places and establishing that there was contact is enough to prove infection source.
    – Trish
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:40
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    @Trish This would establish both a duty and make causation more clear.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:48
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For the sake of argumentation, let me use the law from here.

Under the condition, that the illness is a tracked infection under §6 Infektionsschutzgesetz (law for the protection from infections), then they are legally obliged to isolate and enter quarantine. That means, the mere act of meeting Bob would be a violation of law. Among the illnesses on that list are Cholera, Yellow Fever, Variola vera and Yersinia pestis - smallpox and plague. But SARS-COV-2 is also on that list.

By purposefully meeting anyone while being under the mandated quarantine or isolation, Eve not only is to be fined for that (violating the quarantine) but also can be liable for damage to Bob as, according to the law, transmission is foreseeable. However, we can't a priori assume the necessary murder criteria in Germany, so it is possibly better described as Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge (StGB §227 - infliction of bodily harm resulting in death) or negligent homicide (StGB §222). The latter is punishable with up to 5 years or fine, the former with at least 3 years normally and 1 to 10 in lesser cases. However, there might be grounds for trying to go for other unlawful killing statutes, based on the exact pattern.

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  • Even though it’s not the country the question was tagged for, I appreciate the effort! Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:24
  • @Spacefighter The main thing of the exercise with Germany was, that the treatment of Eve by law might rely on the interaction of public health laws and what those mandate and then violating those mandates. If you were ordered to isolate or put under quarantine, violating that puts you on notice that you are banned from seeing anyone - which then interacts with the laws on inflicting bodily harm or killing somebody.
    – Trish
    Commented Jun 16, 2021 at 16:28
  • 1-10 monthes or years in lesser cases? Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 6:36
  • Austria has a distinct statute for exactly this: § 178 StGB "Vorsätzliche Gefährdung von Menschen durch übertragbare Krankheiten" i.e. intentionally endangering people through communicable diseases. Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 12:54

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