I didn't post yesterday because the melancholy of the weekend transmogrified itself into a spectacular case of pissy and everything I had to say was either damply negative or stupidstupidstupid (me? PMSing? Whatever gave you that idea??). I therefore followed the advice of Thumper's mother and decided that since I didn't have anything nice to say, I wouldn't say anything at all. That is, until I read the paper and found a handy target for my wrath.
Canada is mostly a wonderful place to live, but it is not perfect. We have our share of people whose actions just make you go ‘huh??”. The latest in this bunch – and I apologize for the imminent incoherent sputtering and unbridled judgement – is various and sundry Catholic School Boards across Ontario. Yes! Look at me wading into religion and politics!
But first a wee preamble. I am not an expert, but what I can glean is this: HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. According to the Ontario Ministry of Health, “The HPV vaccine is close to 100 per cent effective in protecting against four types of high-risk HPV strains, two of which are responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancers. The other two are responsible for about 90 per cent of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective if given before exposure to the virus”. Cervical cancer kills 400 Canadian women annually and makes the lives of many others miserable. The Ontario government has recently implemented a vaccination program against HPV, made available to all grade 8 girls in the province, administered through schools. And this is where it gets asinine. Not that I have a strong opinion or anything.
Catholic school boards are receiving complaints about this vaccination program. Apparently, many consider that the vaccine gives students a signal of support for premarital sex and the trustees of the Huron-superior Catholic school board believe, according to trustee Regis O'Connor, that "as a Catholic school board, we are very, very aware that this is a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease and that giving it means children are going to be promiscuous" (my emphasis). Therefore, many Catholic schoolboards are reviewing motions to ban the program.
Now, whether this HPV vaccine is a good idea is some thing for experts to debate - I don't know enough about it to issue an opinion. Health Canada, the Ontario government, the CDC and I suspect a number of other organizations all endorse it. Some experts feel that not enough is known about the vaccine, although the concerns listed in the article I linked to it seemed to be the kinds of concerns that are easily outweighed by the chance of saving lives. Which is my point.
I have my opinion about teenagers being sexually active. Others have different ones and I fully respect those opinions. However, I have problems with blocking efforts to save lives. It reminds me of when my sister was in highschool during a time where the North American world had begun to get its head out of its arse about HIV, realizing that it was not just “the gay cancer” and had started doing something about trying to reduce the spread of the virus (the vile, vicious, unconscionable (in)actions of said world during the time of ignoring HIV are beautifully documented in And the Band Played On, a book that made me apoplectic with fury. Odd thing to serve as a recommendation, but it’s very good). One of those somethings was a plan by public school boards to install condom machines in highschool bathrooms. A move that didn't happen, as the community got their knickers in a knot about how it would “encourage promiscuity”. And for months, I ranted on a daily basis about the ignorance, shortsightedness and downright stupidity of this. The fact is this: teenagers are going to have sex. I think that the role of adults is to try to help them do so safely, both emotionally and physically. Part of such efforts may be having an open communication with teenagers about delaying sex until they are emotionally ready (or married, whichever works for your beliefs). Another part - in my opinion - is to give them the tools to have sex safely, should they decided to do so. That includes information on birth control. Admittedly, my view is coloured by my country of origin, where we have sexuality and birth control education in grade 7 (yes, even 30 years ago when I was that grade) and in general are rather more relaxed about such things. I once read a study that said that the rate of teenage pregnancy in Scandinavian countries is vastly smaller than the North American one. Coincidence? I think not. Much as we might like to believe that preaching abstinence will automatically cause any and all adolescents to save themselves for marriage, the facts are in. Abstinence programs don't work. Teenagers will have sex. Not all of them, but some.
And this is where I get stuck. I simply don't understand the continued blind investing in the abstinence approach to the exclusion of other information. Sure, talk to the kids about delaying, hope they delay, support them to delay, but don't leave them without a safety net if they don’t. I find it incredibly offensive that the commitment to the chastity principle, or the no premarital sex or whatever you want to call it, can be so strong that powers/organizations/people take away life-saving tools in the name of “morality”. And it's not just teenagers - AIDS is an pandemic in Africa. HIV transmission can be blocked by condom use. Catholicism is the fastest-growing religion on that continent. The Catholic Church will not advocate the use of condoms. Projections about the AIDS pandemic in Africa indicate that this entire continent may be wiped out. Wiped out!
How is that moral? How is that ethical? How is a faith-based rejection of condoms or HPV vaccines Christian? Principles are all fine and good and lord knows, I have a few myself. One of which being that we, as civilized human beings, have a moral obligation to try to help others to live the best lives they can, which in my opinion means trying to prevent awful diseases – at home and on the other side of the earth. Teach your children what you want, tell them that it is important they don't have sex before marriage, but don't be naïve enough to believe that some of them might not give into their hormones. If they don't, terrific, but if they do, wouldn't you rather have them safely de-virginized than dead (yes, I am aware that HIV infection is no longer a automatic death sentence - unfortunately, at the time my sister went to highschool, it was)? That's what it comes down to, isn't it? Wouldn't you rather have your child be sexually active than HIV-positive, which is still not a nice disease to have? Wouldn't you rather have your daughter protected than sitting by her bedside later, while she fights cervical cancer? I am not a parent, but in light of those questions, I cannot imagine saying that my principles are more important than doing everything I can to help my child be as healthy as possible.
Am I wrong?