On HPV and Virtuous Diseases

One of the disadvantages of being a procrastinator is that sometimes you lose great opportunities. I started on this story last week and put it aside because of travel, In the meantime I find that Michael Gerson has hit the subject much better than I ever could.


Though the kerfuffle concerning Michele Bachmann and the HPV vaccine from the Republican candidate debate in Tampa is about over, during the course of that debate I repeatedly encountered an argument that, in my view, belongs much more in Saudi Arabia than America.

Fact: there is no such thing as a virtuous disease.

Fact: no behavior or lifestyle choice merits death by cancer.

Without getting into the merits or process of Perry’s Gardasil decision the fact that the target of that vaccine is primarily spread via sexual activity should strike the average person, particularly a parent, as irrelevant. We should all be able to agree on is that no one deserves cancer. Period. End of discussion. We should also be able to agree that limiting the spread of any disease is, in the main, a worthy undertaking. If those two points can’t receive a resounding Amen, I’d submit that there is a real problem.

The side issue here is some people believe that giving their virginal tween daughter a series of shots that will protect her from a cancer that is primarily spread via sexual activity will turn her into a slut. That risk exists in same proportion that giving a child a Hepatitis B vaccine will make them either sexually promiscuous or an intravenous drug user. Why one vaccine should cause the heebie-jeebies and the other a yawn is beyond me.

The fact is that it takes a minimum of two people to have sex. Your child’s embrace or rejection of abstinence until marriage is irrelevant, you also have to take into consideration the possible pre-marital behavior of the future spouse of your child. His or her parents may not have done as good a job inculcating values as you have. Nevertheless, it is your child who is at risk, too.


The underlying premise in this argument is that a teen or young adult, who are notorious both for lack of impulse control and feeling immortal, will be deterred from having sex by the possibility of developing cancer two or three decades hence but they won’t be deterred by pregnancy, herpes, syphillis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, Hepatitis C, etc. in the near term, drags common sense out of its car and beats it silly. Unstated is the idea that exposing your child to the risk of cancer for the sake of making a debating point is not only acceptable but praiseworthy.

Parents protect their children. That is what parenthood is about. We should give no more respect to the argument that cervical or throat cancer is just desserts for sexual promiscuity than we should accept virtually the same argument from Westboro Baptist Church that AIDS is punishment for homosexuality.


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