I do not get this.
Some years ago, one of the nastier cancers humans can suffer from was found to have an easily targeted cause: the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus, or HPV. HPV is usually fought off by the immune system, but in some women it survives for years before stealthily converting cervical surface cells into cancer cells. Once the cancer is established, treatment is a fairly awful procedure and there are no guarantees of survival. (One of my close coworkers died from cervical cancer. The last months of her life were not what we’d call high quality.)
But when HPV was nailed down as a major cause, scientists turned their attention to creating a vaccine. And they succeeded. Not in time for adult women, because the vaccine works best if given before a child becomes sexually active (and thus has potential prior exposure to the virus). But still, in a world where cancer scares the pants off just about everybody, the idea of an actual vaccine against one form of cancer should have everyone dancing in the streets, right?
Today’s Guardian, reporting on a just-published Australian study regarding the success of the vaccine, comments that vaccination rates in the UK have been good, “in spite of worries that parents would refuse to have their daughters vaccinated against what is essentially a sexually-transmitted virus.”
A February 2010 Yale Journal of Medicine & Law article notes that
Controversy over the product began before it was licensed, when some religious conservatives expressed concern that the availability of a vaccine against a sexually transmitted disease would undermine abstinence-based prevention messages. Advocacy groups such as Focus on the Family ultimately came to support availability of the vaccine, but they remain opposed to mandating its use. In their view, such a requirement constitutes an attempt by the secular state to force a child to undergo an intervention that may be irreconcilable with her family’s religious values and beliefs.
Similar concerns have been raised about school-based requirements for vaccination against hepatitis B: because the virus spreads primarily among sexually active people and injection-drug users, some parents argued that the vaccine should be given only to those groups rather than to all children.
Right, because nobody’s child ever went on to become sexually active before marriage, or use an injectable drug.
I am baffled by this rationale. It’s like having your doctor say, “Hey, there’s a new cancer vaccine out; it’ll pretty much make your daughter immune to the most common cause of cervical cancer. Would you like to vaccinate her?” and answering, “Oh, no thanks. She’ll never have pre-marital sex and neither will her future husband, so she won’t need it. And if she did have pre-marital sex, then the slut wouldn’t deserve to be immunized against a cancer.”
I’ve checked out some of the voices on the other side of this argument, and my bafflement remains intact. Here’s a post from an abstinence-promoting blog:
Dannah Gresh has chosen not to vaccinate her two fourteen year old [sic] daughters. She would no more vaccinate them to give them protection against a sexually transmitted disease than hand them a condom so they can have sex safely.
Don’t they realize what they’re saying? They’re saying “I will not protect my child.”
The post goes on:
The fact is that if you are being aggressive about training your daughter to live abstinent until marriage, it is a contradiction to vaccinate her against a sexually transmitted disease.
Well, yes, we wouldn’t want a potentially life-saving act to contradict our teachings.
I’m a recent arrival to this parenting thing, having acquired a stepson just four years ago, when he was seven. He is not blood of my blood. But he is the son of the woman I love, and I have come to love him as well. In addition, I am partially responsible for raising him and keeping him safe. I simply cannot imagine abdicating this responsibility out of a fear that, if I protect him, he might not behave the way I want him to. That is not parenting. That is judging.