American Medicine: Jacobsen v. Massachusetts Case – Health System Example

Download free paperFile format: .doc, available for editing

"American Medicine: Jacobsen v. Massachusetts Case" is a perfect example of a paper on the health system. Public health law serves to protect the health rights of the citizens. Sometimes the decisions made in the public interest may not be necessarily be viewed as so. Some members of the public may have differing opinions of this mandatory decision by the state. The Supreme Court is regarded as the topmost in the land, and their decision is always final (Starr, 1982). There can be no appeal to decisions made by it.

In 1905, a United States Supreme Court began to question the power and decisions held by state governments in the guise of protection of public health. This also led to the review of personal freedom and liberty (Starr, 1982). The examination is to discover conceptions about this power and the Jacobson case, and many like it that came after. Analysis At the beginning of the 20th century, infectious disease cases were very rampant. One such disease was smallpox.   Almost a hundred years ago, in Massachusetts, the Supreme Court, made a state decision that required mandatory vaccination of all the citizens.

This came in the wake of a smallpox epidemic. The threat of the disease had become alarming, and the Massachusetts state gave the states’ board of health authority to require every citizen to get the smallpox vaccination. The statute required all adults to get the vaccination. The penalty for refusing or disobeying this statute was a five-dollar fine (which is equivalent to about a hundred dollars today). This penalty was enforced because the state had not put any provisions in place to forcefully make people get the vaccination. One of the states’ citizens, Henning Jacobson, refused to get the vaccination.

He did this with the claim that the vaccination had given a bad reaction to his son who had taken it earlier. The Supreme Court had not taken into account any scenario where any possible harm could come in, because the vaccinations were not forcefully administered. Jacobson refused this vaccination, and in turn, he was fined five dollars. He then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The decision was ruled with the justification that the courts had the right and power to restrict personal liberty, in the wake of great danger (Pogzar, 2006).

The statute in its terms considered it necessary to encroach on personal liberty and freedom, to control or prevent the public’ s interest, in this case, public health and/or safety. Conclusion The question of personal liberty and how state laws affect it has been examined thoroughly. In this case, the state made a mandatory decision that every one of its citizens should be vaccinated, and when Jacobson did not comply he was fined. Even if done in the name of public interest, certain exceptions must be considered before the court acts on ‘ offenders’ .

The Court’ s decision, in this case, was debatable and also viewed as wrong, because the state should not interfere or infringe on personal liberty and human rights.   Although the States still reserves the authority to make the laws that govern its citizens, what has evolved over time from 1905, is the courts’ realization and recognition that individual liberty and freedom are important (Pogzar, 2006). This also came with the recognition that in the preservation of public health, the preservation of personal liberty and freedom, as well.


Pozgar. D. G. (2006). Legal aspects of healthcare administration. Baltimore: Jones and Bartlet Learning.

Starr. P. (1982). The social transformation of American medicine. New York: Basic Books.

Download free paperFile format: .doc, available for editing
Contact Us