Reading for Thinking - Online Practice:
Understanding Longer Readings

Copyright © 2005 Laraine Flemming.
General distribution outside the classroom and redistribution are strictly prohibited.

Directions: Read each selection. Then click the appropriate buttons to identify the author's main idea, tone, purpose, and degree of bias.


Vaccinations: Pros and Cons

A vaccine is a medication, given either orally or by injection, that prevents or reduces the risk of contracting a particular disease. Vaccines are also known as immunizations because they stimulate the natural disease-fighting abilities of the body. They work by giving the body practice in fighting off a disease. A vaccine contains a small amount of bacteria or virus that causes infection. When that bacteria or virus is introduced into the body, the immune system recognizes it as an intruder and manufacturers specific antibodies that will fight infection if the body comes under attack.

Immunizations for children continue to be the subject of heated debate because they do have some negative side effects. Mild, short-term side effects include pain or tenderness at the point of injection, mild fever, irritability, sleepiness, and decreased appetite. More serious side effects, though rare, include an increased risk of seizures. In addition, a very small number of children have had severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, to some vaccines. Reactions include hives, difficulty breathing, and a drop in blood pressure. Such consequences have led some people to create anti-vaccine groups. Convinced that vaccines can cause problems, such as autism, diabetes, learning disabilities, and asthma, members of these groups refuse to immunize their children. They also fight against laws that require children to be vaccinated in order to attend public schools.

The positive effects of vaccinations, however, are simply undeniable. As a matter of fact, vaccines were on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of the top ten public health achievements in the twentieth century. Immunizations have eliminated some diseases that killed or severely disabled thousands every year. For example, vaccines have completely eliminated polio. They also wiped out smallpox, which 10 million people used to contract every year as late as the 1960s. Vaccines have also significantly reduced the occurrence of many other diseases. Measles used to infect about 4 million children per year, but in 1997, there were only 138 cases of measles in the United States. Vaccines have also reduced the number of cases of diphtheria, meningitis, and pertussis (whooping cough), which used to kill or cause brain damage in thousands of children each year. It's not surprising that most health care professionals believe the benefits of immunization far outweigh their few risks, and they are correct in their belief.


What is the author's overall main idea?

a. Vaccinations have many serious negative side effects.

b. Vaccinations do more harm than good.

c. The benefits of vaccinating children far outweigh the possible negative consequences.

d. Vaccinations are the 20th century's greatest medical achievement.


How would you describe the author's tone?

a. outraged

b. sure and confident

c. sad and solemn

d. emotionally neutral


How would you describe the author's purpose?

a. She wants to tell readers about the controversies surrounding children's vaccinations.

b. She wants to convince parents that they should avoid vaccinating their children.

c. She wants to promote vaccinations for children.

d. She wants to list the pros and cons of vaccinations for children.


With which of the following do you agree?

a. The author is biased in favor of routine vaccinations for children.

b. The author is biased against routine vaccinations for children.

c. The author shows no evidence of any bias.


Make It Illegal to Be a Bad Samaritan*

On May 25, 1997, twenty-two-year-old Jeremy Strohmeyer chased seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson into the stall of a public bathroom, where he molested and then strangled her. At one point, his friend David Cash looked over the door of the stall and saw Strohmeyer struggling with the little girl. Cash, however, didn't intervene to help Sherrice. Instead, he told his friend they had to get going and left the little girl alone with her killer.

Although Jeremy Strohmeyer is now serving a life sentence without parole, David Cash remains a free man to this day. And given his comments after Sherrice's death, it's doubtful that he is guilt-stricken: "I'm not going to get upset over somebody else's life. I just worry about myself first."

In Las Vegas, where the crime was committed, there's no law saying a bystander has to come to the aid of a crime victim, even if the victim is in danger of being murdered. Yet as the case of Sherrice Iverson suggests, we need a Good Samaritan law that says bystanders can't simply watch or walk away while someone is being brutally attacked. They don't have to intervene physically, but they must call for help. If they don't, they should be fined and sentenced to spend some time in jail. In states that already have Good Samaritan laws, the penalties for breaking that law should be made much, much tougher. In Vermont, for example, failure to help someone being attacked only results in a hundred-dollar fine. The fine should be a hundred times that amount.

Although many European countries do have Good Samaritan laws, American individualism seems to have interfered with court willingness to make protecting others part of our legal code. According to UCLA law professor Peter Arnella, "The criminal law in this country tends to overvalue the notion of individual rights . . . even when the person is risking a serious social harm."

A famous turn-of-the-century case often cited by legal scholars certainly supports Arnella's position. During a couple's weekend vacation, one member fell into a drug-induced coma. The man's partner responded by going home and leaving him to die. The case ultimately went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, where the court found that the partner who left had no legal duty to intervene and offer aid.

Legal or not, most people would argue that there was a moral duty at stake in the Michigan case and certainly in the case of Sherrice Iverson. We need a Good Samaritan law on the books, and we need it now. (Sources of information: Courtney Robertson, "Berkeley Wants Student to Get Out of Town,"; Helen Robeson, "Make It Illegal to Be a Bad Samaritan," Moral Choices, June 1, 1999, p. 25)
* Samaritan: A person from Samaria, a part of the Holy Land of the Bible. Jesus tells the story of the "good Samaritan" who selflessly helped someone who had been beaten and left behind by robbers.


What is the author's overall main idea?

a. Our judicial system needs a Good Samaritan law.

b. Good Samaritans laws work only in theory.

c. Europeans might need a Good Samaritan law but Americans do not.

d. A Good Samaritan law will help curb crime among adolescents.


How would you describe the author's tone?

a. emotionally neutral

b. insistent

c. casual

d. anxious


How would you describe the author's purpose?

a. She wants to describe Good Samaritan laws in Europe and compare them to the U.S.

b. She wants to describe a terrible crime that could have been avoided.

c. She wants to convince readers that something like a Good Samaritan law would conflict with the American idea of taking responsibility for one's self.

d. She wants to persuade readers that there must be something like a Good Samaritan law introduced into the U.S. legal system.


With which of the following do you agree?

a. The author is biased in favor of a Good Samaritan law

b. The author is biased against the concept of a Good Samaritan law.

c. The author shows no evidence of any bias.

Last change made to this page: 2/12/2008

RfT: Online practice