Maine parents would be wise to consider the implications of a vaccine-related bill — L.R. 1098, An Act To Require Childhood Immunization Counseling — recently introduced by Democratic Portland Rep. Richard Farnsworth.

L.R. 1098 proposes that parents who seek an exemption from the regimen of vaccines required in order for their children to attend public school in Maine now be required to attend counseling and to obtain the signature of a health care provider before their exemption will be considered.

The objective of this bill, as reported in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel on Dec. 30 (“Maine bill aims to make it harder for parents not to vaccinate children”), is to decrease the rate of parents opting out of vaccinations — a trend that some fear could lead to a resurgence of preventable diseases.

The federal government directs health care providers to give infants and children 69 doses of 16 distinct vaccines, starting at birth with 49 doses given before age 6 — more than any other developed nation.

Under existing Maine law, parents can opt out of all or some of these vaccines by stating in writing a sincere religious or philosophical objection. This is in keeping with our tradition of civil liberties, independent thinking and respect for the informed consent ethic. The state should not interfere with parents’ right to make their own informed decisions.

Yet Farnsworth’s proposed bill does just that. Requiring a one-sided, government-designed counseling session insults and discriminates against parents who do their own research and decide, based on the evidence, that certain vaccines pose a risk to or are otherwise not appropriate for their children.

Requiring a health care provider to sign off on the parents’ decision wrongfully removes the decision-making authority from the parent. This paternalistic approach is out of step with Maine’s respect for the freedom of our citizens to make their own health care decisions.

Pharmaceutical companies and federal agencies want you to think that vaccines are safe for everyone. But vaccines are pharmaceutical products that provide both benefits and well-documented risks acknowledged by Congress, medical researchers and independent scientific bodies.

People do not all respond the same way to drugs or vaccines. During the past three decades, the Institute of Medicine — the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences — has published a series of reports outlining the large gaps in vaccine safety science, and confirming that some people are genetically, biologically and environmentally more susceptible to suffering serious vaccine reactions that can lead to chronic brain and immune dysfunction.

Under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which shields drug companies and pediatricians from civil liability for vaccine injuries and deaths, the federal government has awarded nearly $3 billion to the vaccine-injured.

The benefits of certain vaccinations for certain people may outweigh the harm in some cases. But no parent should be forced to give his or her child a liability-free pharmaceutical product that could injure or kill that child, nor should parents be subjected to government “counseling” in order to make that decision.

Very few individuals or organizations questioning the safety of vaccines call for the abandonment of vaccines, and most agree that for some children, vaccines are safe and beneficial.

There is evidence that for some children, however, vaccines are harmful, both in terms of the number of immunizations and the frequency with which they are given to adhere to the government-recommended schedule. There is also evidence that these negative impacts have been swept under the rug both by manufacturers and regulating agencies.

There is a revolving door between pharmaceutical companies that profit from vaccines and the agencies that are supposed to police them. The right of parents to opt out of vaccines for their children provides a critical check on the pharmaceutical companies that develop these vaccines, and the agencies that regulate them.

The ability to opt out of vaccines also serves as a tool to pressure these entities to thoroughly study and report on the safety of these drugs for all children, not just most children. So far they have failed to do that, resorting instead to scare tactics and shaming of the parents who dare to ask questions.

But for a parent, the most important question is not, “Will this be good for most children?” but, “Will this be safe for my child?”

Katherine Paul, of Freeport, is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.