Ethical Issues That Arise In Jenner’s Vaccination Against Smallpox

In Edward Jenner’s Vaccination Against Smallpox, the way Jenner experiments on the people in his village questions whether or not his actions were ethical. Jenner’s work on the people in his community addresses many health risks due to the smallpox disease, his work may have had both purpose and justification, but the way Jenner carried out his experiments were very dangerous and harmful to his community. Jenner put many people’s lives in jeopardy including men, women and even young innocent children.

If the Nuremburg Code was established prior to Jenner’s time, Jenner’s work might have been rejected. Jenner’s work may have been rejected because in his writing and in his case studies, Jenner struggles with the moral implications of developing a vaccine. In order to develop the smallpox vaccine, Jenner had to inject both the cowpox and the smallpox disease in these humans. With developing the smallpox vaccine, Jenner undoubtedly posed ethical problems.

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Jenner never mentioned in his inquiry whether or not he got verbal or written consent from the people he inoculated with both diseases, Jenner uses majority of young children as his subjects, and lastly, Jenner never inoculated himself. These are all examples of Jenner’s unethical actions.

Jenner knew nothing about cowpox or smallpox before carrying out his experiments. Jenner was practically learning about the smallpox disease like everyone else in his community. Jenner did no prior research before beginning his cases, where he injected people with the cowpox and the smallpox disease. While studying his observations during his experiments, Jenner believe that “those who had suffered from cowpox, a disease common in the rural parts of western England in the late eighteenth century, were immune to subsequent attacks of smallpox” (Jenner, 7).

This belief led Jenner to develop the smallpox vaccine in the manner which he did. Jenner was inoculating humans with a disease he hardly knew anything about. Jenner based his assumptions about cowpox and smallpox from what he has heard or what he has observed from his experimental case studies. In the beginning of Jenner’s inquiry he assumed that a disease called the grease was the source of how the smallpox came about (Jenner, 13).

In fact, it was proven later on, that the grease had no ties or connection to the smallpox disease whatsoever. The grease only shared a connection with the cowpox disease (Jenner, 14). Jenner concluded that the grease and the cow-pox were the same disease which was proved to be incorrect according to the footnotes of the editor (Jenner, 15).

A lot of people may question whether or not it is just to inoculate humans with a deadly disease just to satisfy curiosity about a subject. Jenner put a lot of people lives at risk. Jenner treated everyone like nonhuman scientific subjects for his use of research and observation. The smallpox disease carried the possibility of death. Jenner tested his theory on some humans who were in perfect health. In case 17, Jenner mentioned that in order for him to accurately observe the progress of the infection, he inoculated a healthy eight year old boy with the cowpox and then the smallpox (Jenner, 24).

This boy never had either diseases, but yet Jenner still chose to inoculate him which was very unethical. By injecting both the cowpox and the smallpox put these healthy individuals at dangerous risk. No point in Jenner’s inquiry does Jenner mention him getting verbal or written consent from the people in his village. How do we know whether or not if Jenner actually told these people he was injecting a deadly disease in these humans? Jenner used these healthy humans in order to observe how the cow pox disease symptoms would affect their body, then observing how there body reacted to the smallpox inoculation.

What if these people would have died after Jenner injected them with the cowpox. Jenner inquiry shows that he does not care about getting consent; all Jenner cares about is inoculating these people. It is unethical to place a deadly disease and very infectious matter into people without getting their consent. Is it just or acceptable that children are used as test subjects in order to analyze Jenner’s study of cowpox and smallpox? Analyzing how Jenner tested his theory, Jenner primary used children in his experiment to prove that cowpox was a vaccine for smallpox. This was the most horrible thing that could’ve happen during Jenner’s studies. Jenner actually performed his first experiment on an eight year old boy (Jenner, 7).

Jenner paid no attention to these children age he had no sympathy towards these innocent children. Jenner proved he had no sympathy towards children when he decided to inoculate a newborn baby (Jenner, 27). Jenner also inoculated toddlers and children around the age of eight. In case 22, it was stated that from the arm of a girl matter was taken and injected into a one year and a half old boy and also an eleven months old boy (Jenner, 28). Injecting young innocent children with a deadly disease is unethical because children lack capacity and intellectual awareness to consent to become medical subjects.

Children have no idea what they are being subjected to and children especially infants and toddlers cannot take medicine at a young age, so say if the vaccine did not work they would have died. Jenner should have started testing his experiment on adults first, instead of using young children. The question we all should consider is why not once in order to study the affects of the cowpox disease and the smallpox did Jenner injected his self with this variolous matter. Not once did Jenner mention that he used his self as an experimental subject. This shows Jenner’s skepticism.

Jenner knew what he was doing was very risky, which shows exactly why he did not inject himself with either the cowpox disease or the smallpox disease. Risking other people lives instead of one’s own is very immoral and should not happen. A lot of other medical professionals often criticized Jenner’s methods because they also thought what he was doing were wrong and did not think that Jenner’s thesis were incorrect.

We need to question whether or not Jenner’s ends justify his means. Just because it was proven that Jenner smallpox vaccine worked, that did not make it okay for him to risk these adults or defenseless children lives by injecting them with a deadly disease. Just because Jenner’s terrible actions was a benefit, does not justify his unethical behavior.

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Ethical Issues That Arise In Jenner’s Vaccination Against Smallpox. (2016, Jun 23). Retrieved from