I just saw an ad urging women, ages '9-26', to receive Gardasil vaccination. Gardasil is of course the famous drug that prevents, in the vast majority of studied cases, human papillomavirus, HPV. HPV can increase the risk of cervical cancer, throat cancer, and genital warts. Schools are offering free vaccinations as early as grade 5, and some schools, like the Catholic ones in Calgary, aren't going for it.
From the Catholic perspective, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Gardasil. It is by all accounts a very effective and even life-saving drug that will undoubtedly help thousands of Canadians every year. But there is something wrong with a STI drug being given to girls who haven't even reached puberty yet. Of course, the critics will say, there is the few 9 year-old girls who tragically will be sexually active at that young age. But their situation is not the norm, and we should make sure it never is, lest the next devastating STI epidemic is thrust upon us. And the hyper-aggressive advertising, the type which vilifies parents who may have reservations about their children receiving the vaccination at a certain age, is just plain wrong.
I'd like it if the Catholic school boards that aren't suitably excited about Gardasil advance their arguments a little better. Make sure the rest of Canada understands why you think it's worth thinking twice about giving children drugs that are explicitly designed to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases. Otherwise, it makes Catholics look like fundamentalist nutters who'd rather circle the wagons than make peace with the natives.
Most of all, the Gardasil phenomenon is an opportunity for Catholic school boards to initiate a very important discussion with the rest of Canada. I can think of a few elementary questions to start from:
- Canadians should re-examine the sexual education children receive in public and private schools to make sure the children are not exposed to dangerous and potentially life threatening infections. I've always thought that the best way to do this is to follow the tried and true ABC format of sex-ed: Abstinence; be faithful; or use a condom.
- At what point should children be exposed to sex-ed? When should the role of the parents in this matter be usurped by a teacher? How exactly do we get parents to maturely and responsibly discuss these things with their children?
- Should we aggressively advertise a drug to minors?