California's HPV Vaccine Law Saves Lives
The thing is, we do have the means to prevent some cases of cervical cancer. It's called the HPV vaccine. And Gov. Jerry Brown did society a great favor by signing a bill into law Sunday that will encourage HPV vaccinations amongst the target demographic—12-year-old girls.
The new law allows girls in California as young as 12 to receive an HPV vaccination without a parent's knowledge or consent. It has apparently outraged a lot of people, who believe this measure both encourages promiscuity in preteen girls and interferes with parents' ability to make decisions for children who cannot even legally vote or drive.
These fears are not well-founded. Allowing preteen and teenage girls to seek the HPV vaccine independently is not some fluky radical doctrine designed to encourage moral anarchy and undermine the parent's role in society; on the contrary, its working to prevent the very consequences opponents of the law believe it could lead to. Gov. Brown signed this bill into law as an extension of previous legislature that already allows minors to seek diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent. Such legislature promotes the welfare of teenagers, the family, and society in general by ensuring that difference of opinion or discomfort do not leave minors unable to access the medical care they need. It also helps to lessen the risk of knowingly or unknowingly spreading infection to others.
The argument that the presence of this legal and medical safety net leads to riskier sexual behavior at a younger age is preposterous. No sane individual goes out of his or her way to contract a sexually transmitted disease, no matter how accessible treatment might be. No teenager is going to delight in contracting HIV or Herpes just because people at home don't hear about it.
Meanwhile, parents who take it as a personal attack on their child-rearing ability that the government has provided minors the options of taking their sexual health into their own hands should consider that they are being narcissistic and narrow-minded. The government isn't trying to wage some sort of war on parental authority; in fact, parents are hardly part of the issue at all. The goal is to keep people safe and healthy, regardless of age, and to make sure no complication or obstacle—whether it comes from the family or some other source—gets in the way of that.
In this case, what that goal translates to is getting as many preteen girls vaccinated against HPV as possible. While many of the roughly forty strains of HPV are essentially harmless and will go away on their own, others can have devastating consequences. Gardasil, the more commonly used of the two HPV vaccines, protects against just four strains of HPV—however these four strains account for almost 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of cases of genital warts. Those numbers are huge. Factor in the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and there's not much reason to stand in the way.
California's recent bill helps to prevent just that.
Beyond the blatant denial of a medical benefit, it is particularly mind-blowing that opponents of the vaccine law cannot see how positive of an impact it could have on teenage awareness and responsibility. The mere act of a 12-year-old girl taking the initiative to go to a physician and seek out an HPV vaccine for herself demonstrates that she is beginning to make mature and informed decisions about her health. Additionally, this act creates an ideal opportunity to start an open dialogue between girls and health care providers about sexual decision making, the risks of sexual activity, and how best to protect oneself from both disease and unwanted pregnancy.
Is it really such a bad thing that California is encouraging girls to take charge of their own physical and sexual well-being at a younger age, to make important decisions regarding sex before they become sexually active and it might be too late? I certainly don't think so.
Cervical cancer remains the second leading cancer killer of women worldwide. It doesn't have to be. Parents of preteen girls need to stop raising hell over the supposed implications of California's new HPV vaccine law and consider the message it's really trying to send: this vaccine should be as accessible as possible, to help keep young women safe, educated, and free of disease.