California recently enacted a law that allows parents to be bypassed when decisions are made about whether to inject their child with Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer. HPV causes changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer later in life. Children can be given Gardasil without parental permission as early as age 12.
According to the law’s supporters, bypassing parents is a necessary public health measure that must take precedence over any old-fashioned notion of parental authority. Certainly, protecting people from cervical cancer is a laudable public health objective, but this does not justify the use of any means to get there.
In an emergency, a doctor will treat a child without the parents’ permission, but no emergency presents itself in this situation. The doctor has plenty of time to consult with the parents, and the parents, after hearing all of the information, can make the decision as to whether their child should be given the HPV vaccine. This is also a good time for the parents and the child to discuss sexuality in its fullest sense, including how it is a gift from God designed for expression within a marriage between a man and a woman.
There are situations where a child could be in danger of being exposed to the HPV through no fault of their own, such as when a child is a victim of incest. California lawmakers could have waived parental permission in these situations, but they did not. Instead, the state passed a law in which the parents’ permission can be waived in all cases. Why?
Because, according to some public health advocates, teens are going to engage in sexual activity regardless of their parents’ objections, so protection is needed from HPV. This argument is based on the premise that most parents will not discuss sexual matters with their children and therefore someone else should make the decision about the HPV vaccine. Who is this someone else?
Is it the child? The idea that a child of 12 can give informed consent in these situations is ridiculous. So, who is really making the decision? The decision has been turned over to a doctor or perhaps to a nurse at a health clinic who has decided not to consult with the parents.
A responsible doctor or nurse will normally consult with the parents, except in cases of family incest where they have a duty to notify the state. But the California law is not addressed to them; instead, the law gives license to those medical practitioners who do not value family consultation, a hallmark of good family medical practice. In effect, the law endorses a lower standard of medical ethics.
The California law also serves to weaken the bonds of the family. Pre-teens are exposed to many influences outside the family but now the process is taken further: the child supposedly makes his or her own medical decisions. This naïve view of childhood rests on a delusion: that children can act like adults. In fact, children need parents who will love them and guide them to adulthood.
The family is the basic building block of society. It is the rock upon which the whole house of society is built. Our laws should support this foundation, not undermine it.