The country is riven by the vaccinated versus anti-vaxxers. Infection rates are escalating among the unvaccinated. That's allowing new, virulent variants to thrive, threatening our health and the return to normal, whatever that may be.
What happens when the unvaxxed hits home, when it's not the rogue uncle or distant cousin but your adult child who won't get a shot?
This touchy issue popped up in Kwame Anthony Appiah's New York Times column The Ethicist. The father of an unvaxxed son wrote in with that quandary plus a further complication. Until the son gets a job, the dad is paying his son's share of the rent on an apartment the son shares with his girlfriend. But the son's job search is complicated by his reluctance to get vaccinated. The reader posed this argument and question:
I told him that future employers would most likely insist on his getting vaccinated, and that his unvaccinated state would have financial implications by delaying his start date and income until he could get fully vaccinated. I said that his refusal to get the shot would cost money and that I wasn’t sure I would continue to support him during that gap period between accepting a job and starting work. He became upset, maintaining that he was already compromising by agreeing to become vaccinated if a job required it and that my withholding support was unfair, especially given his willingness to compromise by getting the shot.
Who’s right here?
Appiah covered the importance of getting vaccinated and then zeroed in on the issue of whether the father, who's nearing retirement and feeling a financial pinch, is right to cut off financial aid if his son refuses to get vaccinated.
Vaccination aside, Appiah made a point that will resonate with all of us who offer our grown children financial support of any kind.
If he’s willing to accept an employer’s terms, he should be willing to accept his parental benefactor’s. After all, a parent isn’t generally obliged to provide financial support to an adult child.
Given that you have allowed him to depend upon your generosity, however, you would do well to withdraw that support gently, or with ample advance warning. I know it seems paradoxical to say that a gift can entail an obligation. But in all sorts of circumstances, it can. Suppose your tractor-owning neighbor makes a habit of clearing your driveway every time you’re snowed in. Because of her generosity, you don’t make alternative arrangements. If she suddenly has a change of heart, you’re worse off after the next blizzard than you would otherwise be. That doesn’t bind her to a lifetime of plowing your driveway; it does mean she owes you notice.
In the end, though, respecting people’s agency doesn’t mean you have to underwrite their every mistaken belief. Your son is free to reject your support if he wants to persist in error.