I started this before my unintentional hiatus, when the bill itself was still a hot topic. I decided to complete it, as I think it is still relevant, both for the specific topic, and for the way it relates to the way we deal with other issues, like sex ed.
A new vaccine has been creating quite a stir on the political scene in a number of states around the nation, including Utah. Merck boasts that Gardasil can protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer. Excited by the promise of this medication, a number of politicians around the nation have sought to promote the use of this vaccine, producing bills sponsoring anything from mandatory vaccinations to education and subsidization. in the recently ended session of the 57th Utah Legislature, district 46 Representative Karen Morgan sponsored HB 358, a bill which would originally have provided one-million dollars for the Utah Health Department to “establish a program to educate citizens about the risks of cervical cancer and prevention of cervical cancer and to begin an immunization program.” The bill was vehemently opposed by conservative legislators and leaders. In the end, the bill was passed, but as the neutered HB 358S02, in which the immunization campaign was removed, the education campaign was twisted to promote the conservative agenda, and the funding was gutted.
Fortunately John Huntsman Sr. has the compassion and integrity to have recently pledged to fully fund Morgan’s program.
What is it that so perturbed the Right about this vaccine? Gayle Ruzicka of the Eagle Forum was one of the most vocal opponents of Morgan’s bill, and is a good example. She expressed a number of concerns, among them skepticism of the safety of the vaccine and the conflict of interest in Merck helping to sponsor such legislation. These doubts certainly sound reasonable. I think it wise to be cautious about the sorts of promises and assurances made by corporate giants. Merck is, after all, the same corporation which gave us the Viox fiasco. All evidence I’ve seen suggests that while we cannot know for certain what the long-term impacts will be, Gardasil has been thoroughly tested. But I’m willing to explore the issue further. Additionally, I don’t like the idea of a corporation seeking to manipulate legislation in order to essentially guarantee themselves subsidized profits or marketing—especially for a multi-national corporation with revenues in the billions. Ruzicka’s apprehensions seem worth exploring.
But then there is the issue which destroys every shred of Ruzicka’s credibility.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said mandating the vaccine is going too far. She also said that it’s not right to vaccinate children against bad behavior.
“Anytime you tell young people a vaccine is going to save them, you are sending the wrong message. Nothing is foolproof,” she said.
“The only thing we know that will guard against sexually transmitted disease is abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. We cannot keep vaccinating our children against bad behavior. We need to teach them and trust them.” (Ogden Standard Examiner, “Many promote cervical cancer vaccine; others warn against it“)
In other words, Ruzicka doesn’t want girls to be vaccinated against this STD for fear that it would encourage promiscuity.
(we’ll put aside the fact that Ruzicka was less than honest in implying that Morgan’s intent was mandatory vaccinations, when HB 358 was only to education the public about the vaccine and make it available to everyone)
The issue is saving lives, and conservative leaders insist on making it an issue of sexual morality.
The reasoning just doesn’t make sense. Seatbelts and airbags do not encourage people to drive more recklessly. On the other hand, knowing the dangers of smoking hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of people from beginning the habit over the past few decades. Likewise, The risk of pregnancy has been around for as long as man has existed, and various venereal diseases have presumably been around almost as long, yet people have engaged in extra-marital sex virtually from the dawn of time. It is important to try to educate people on the risks we face for our decisions, but fear of the potential consequences seems a less than effective deterrent. Nor does it show much respect for the intelligence and character of our children if we feel we need to rely on fear to keep them on the straight and narrow.
The simple truth is that some young adults are going to have sex. Good and righteous parenting—unlike fear—will likely reduce the odds, but it is no guarantee. We’ve plenty of scriptural examples of good and righteous parents whose children fell into grievous sin (Lehi, both Almas, most of Jacob/Israel’s sons). Is the slim chance that fear will keep our daughters chaste worth the risk to their health and lives should they stray? I find the prospect ghastly.
Ruzicka seems to forget that women aren’t always truly in charge of their bodies. There were 920 reported rapes in Utah in 2005. Do they deserve to risk the disease for the sin of being victims? What about the women who may not actually be physically assaulted, but are coerced into sexual activity? Or the woman who is unaware that her husband is unfaithful, and is about to pass on the virus caught elsewhere?
I agree with Ruzicka that sexual intimacy is something which should be reserved for the bonds of marriage. Nor would I make this vaccine mandatory. But I deplore the interference in legislation in an impotent effort to further that agenda, and find it intolerable that so many conservatives would put that agenda above saving lives.