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Condescending to Parents Over the HPV Vaccine

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The debate over the vaccine for the virus that causes cervical cancer, has resulted in some strange bedfellows. Liberal activists, suspicious of the motives of Merck - the maker of the vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus - have found common cause with members of the Religious Right, who are up in arms over the suggestion by the CDC that pre-pubescent girls should be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted infection. For example, Air America Radio's Mike Papantonio recently appeared on the Alex Jones radio show, along with representatives of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, expressing concerns about the safety of the new vaccine.

Meanwhile, those of us with daughters to raise are trying to balance their present lives against their future risks. State legislators are also trying to sort through the conflicting claims about a virus that causes the second-most common cancer in women, killing 38% of American women who contract it.

One of those claims, expressed mostly by Religious Right groups, that the administration of the vaccine will be interpreted by girls as "a license to engage in premarital sex" - as Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council recently told New Scientist magazine - is based on some assumptions about how parenting works. Those assumptions need to be tested in the light of day, since they run counter to the experience of many of us with teenage daughters. Paradoxically, this cry for more "control" by parents, actually insults parents by assuming that we are unable to take control over the messages we pass onto our daughters.

Parents begin taking their children to the pediatrician for immunizations shortly after they're born. We take for granted our power to make these decisions; a power that our children learn to respect. The choice of what to tell our children about that decision, remains in our power, as well. How many parents delve into a detailed explanation of every scheduled vaccination with their children? Why should the HPV vaccine be any different?

More to the point: as parents, why should we accept the notion that the values we plan to pass on to our daughters is so easily veered off course by a medical intervention? It is ironic that this "promiscuity" scare by the Religious Right - and cited by the media and legislators - claims to be concerned with parental power, while giving parents so little credit. We have the ability to frame any protective measure as a precaution, not a license. For example, when we buy insurance for our teenage drivers, we don't present it as a license to drive unsafely. Giving our children a vaccine does not take that power away.

In fact, there is reason to question the feared loss of parental power. According to Cybercast News Service, Dr. Gene Rudd - a gynecologist, and the associate executive director of the nation's largest faith-based medical body - acknowledged that these decisions will remain with the parents:

"While we should be concerned about healthcare decision-making that could encourage poor sexual choices, I do not see a clear linkage between the decision to accept this vaccine for a six year-old child, or even age 12, and subsequent sexual decisions," he added. "The vaccine decision will likely be made by the parent."

Further, research at the Medical College of Georgia produced some interesting findings:

"We were concerned that parents may worry about vaccinating their children because it could be viewed as condoning sexual activity at an earlier age," Dr. Daron G. Ferris, director of the college's Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center, said in a statement at the time. "Our study showed that this is not the case."

Sadly, the very argument that assumes that parents have no control over the messages they send with respect to vaccinations, rests on the following logic: that if we can just control our daughters' behavior prior to marriage, we can control their risk of contracting HPV, and therefore, cervical cancer. But of course, we can't control the sexual history of their eventual marriage partners, even if they do postpone sex until marriage. Perhaps the Religious Right should get a grip on what parental control is really about.
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Amy Fried, Ph.D. Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Amy Fried applies her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior to writing and activism on church-state separation, feminism, reproductive rights, corruption, media and veganism.

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