Saturday 30 June 2012

Schoolgirls' health put at risk by Catholic view on vaccination

Today's Time Newsfeed carries a remarkable story: parents of children attending Catholic schools in Calgary were sent a special letter to accompany details of a vaccination programme against human papillomavirus (HPV), which protects against cervical cancer. In it, local bishops wrote: "Although school-based immunization delivery systems generally result in high numbers of students completing immunization, a school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed.” I find this amazing for several reasons:
  • There's a complete failure to understand what affects teenagers' behaviour. Do the bishops seriously think that teenaged girls who are thinking of having sex say to themselves "Oh, wait a minute. I might get HPV. Let's not do it." Potential consequences of sex include a host of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as pregnancy. If these don't put girls off, then why should a risk of HPV? 
  • HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. You can get it if you are a virgin who marries someone with HPV. You can get it if you are raped (something which has been known to occur in Catholic schools). 
  • The recommendation seems theologically dubious. I'm an atheist, but my understanding of Catholicism is that whether or not something is a sin is largely to do with motivation rather than action. So if you are tempted to sex but desist because it would upset God, then that's good. If you are tempted to sex but desist only because of a fear of disease, that's still a sin. The church should be teaching girls to love God so much that they won't do things that offend him, not to conform to standards of sexual behaviour out of fear. No doubt religious readers will put me right if I've misunderstood this distinction. 
  • These girls are attending a Catholic school where I assume morality is drummed into them day and night. The bishops assume that their grasp of that morality is so weak that having a HPV vaccination will be sufficient to overturn everything they have been told about sexual ethics. Doesn't say much for the religious teaching in the schools, or for the intelligence of the pupils. 
  • One thing Jesus really understood is that humans aren't perfect and frequently fall short of the moral standards they try to adhere to. There's a huge emphasis on forgiveness of sin in his teachings. The Bishops are in effect saying that God won't forgive you if you stray from the straight and narrow: he'll commit you to a life with an unpleasant disease, and increase your risk of dying from cancer. That's not the Christian God I was taught about.


  1. Deevybee, you are demonstrating that people who aren't even ordained, or Catholic or even theists often demonstrate more understanding of religion than do R.C. BISHOPS !
    The best example that I have found of this is the life and teaching of a humbe Austrian farmer who, with only 8 years of education in a one-room schoolhouse, came to the conclusion that neither the pope (Pius XII) nor all of the Austrian and German bishops combined could not reach, that the only morally respectable response to Adolf Hitler was "Hell NO! I would rather die a good man than live (and possibly die) an EVIL collaborator with immorality incarnate." See .

  2. I take your point, but it's a big leap from "sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed" to "deserve to die".

    1. Mike - you are absolutely right and I was completely over the top in entitling this "Schoolgirls who have sex deserve to die". Now I have calmed down a bit I realise such an over-emotional title will only make people reject what I am saying, and I have put in something more accurate! Thanks.

    2. You may want to change the permalink URL too if possible... ;)

  3. The whole HPV thing is was a huge own goal by the pro-abstinence crowd.

    Before the HPV vaccine no-one except specialists either knew or cared that a) HPV exists or b) is sexually transmitted.

    If the HPV vaccine had been rolled out as just another jab that you get as part of the vaccine program, it would have had zero effect on teen behaviour (it probably won't anyway, but it certainly wouldn't in this scenario), no-one would even know it was anything to do with sex at all,

    Which of course is what the authorities wanted to do. However some people insisted on making a political issue out of it.

  4. The Catholic Bishops in the US object to the new health care law that mandates that insurance companies offer free contraception services to the insured. They are making a new claim, that life doesn't begin at conception. Life begins pre-conception and that every individual sperm or egg has the potential for a new life, therefore contraception is akin to abortion. They are calling for the election of a Republican Congress and a Republican President who will repeal the new health care law which was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court.

  5. Not many people know this, but HPV can be transmitted not only via sexual intercourse: the most common way to get it is in swimming pools, communal bathrooms and showers and poor hygienic conditions in general.
    PS: it's my first time on your blog and I'm enjoying every part of it

  6. I take your point, but it's a big leap from "sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed" to "deserve to die"thanks for sharing with me
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