The age-old debate between personal liberty and public responsibility has found contentious new participants: health care workers.
The debate recently reached a fever pitch after eight employees at Indiana University Health Goshen Hospital in Goshen, Ind., were fired in mid-December for refusing mandatory flu shots. Goshen Hospital had implemented the vaccination policy in September, reports WSBT, as part of a broader effort to ensure patient safety.
“As a hospital and health system, our top priority is and should be patient safety, and we know that hospitalized people with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk for illness and death from the flu,” explained hospital spokeswoman Melanie McDonald to the Elkhart Truth. “The flu has the highest death rate of any vaccine preventable disease, and it would be irresponsible from our perspective for health care providers to ignore that.”
But that isn't how eight of the hospital's employees saw it, most of whom objected to the vaccinations on religious grounds.
"God gave us a body," Ethel Hoover, a Mennonite nurse who had worked at Goshen Hospital for 22 years before she was fired, said to WNDU. "He gave us, He made our body uniquely that we can -- if we live a healthful life -- that our chances of being able to fight it off with our own immune system is very likely."
Another nurse, Joyce Gingerich, told WSBT, "I knew right away I would have to walk away from getting the shot. I have a personal conviction that I don’t want to have one in my body.”
According to UPI, a total of 26 employees filed for an exemption from the mandatory flu vaccination. Eleven appeals were granted along religious lines, and several more employees were exempted because they faced the possibility of a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.
The employees who were ultimately fired did not fit the criteria for religious protection as established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the hospital.
"If it were religious beliefs as defined by the EEOC, they would not have been terminated," explained McDonald to UPI. "Sometimes there can be a little bit of gray area, and people who have very personally-held religious beliefs will present those as religious opportunities for exemption."
ABC News reports 95 percent of the health system's 26,000 workers statewide complied with the vaccination. Of the remaining 5 percent -- or 1,300 employees -- only these eight were fired.