The province I live in, like most of those in Canada, has two separate school systems; the Catholic and the Public. Confusingly, and in my opinion, wrongly, they are both publicly funded. This means that the local Bishop is the moral guide for the school system. Yup, that’s right. A Bishop. Making what amounts to decisions for a public institution. Creepy. Anyway, this post is not about the Catholic school system but about some recent issues within that system here in Calgary.
The HPV virus is not without controversy and while I don’t object to it I do admit there are some troubling issues surrounding the timing, funding and research of the vaccine. However, this is about what happens when a religious nut opens his mouth and potentially endangers the lives of women. The Alberta Health Services decided to offer the vaccine (Gardisil) to girls in grade 5 in the province of Alberta. They felt that at this young age they could be sure to catch most girls before they became sexually active. Bishop Fred Henry came out and said he felt that giving the vaccination to girls within the Catholic school system would encourage them to have pre-marital sex and was therefore opposed on moral grounds. The school trustees in true Catholic form, stopped thinking for themselves (or about the people to whom they are charged with protecting) and agreed with Bishop Henry. They refused to offer the vaccine in school and gave children the option to go to a local health clinic to receive it.
Fast forward a year and we now have the results of this theocratic “health” decision. Only 30% of girls in the Catholic schools received the vaccination. (Interestingly, the French Catholic board ignored their Bishop and 60% of their students received the vaccine…I can only assume those parents are just as Catholic so it had less to do with moral objection and more to do with being too lazy to take their daughter to a clinic. Grrr.) Great, so now when little Sally gets cervical cancer she can feel good about the fact that she listened to an old man who had never had sex and never would and never ran any risk whatsoever of contracting HPV.
To me this is not about whether or not the HPV vaccine is safe, effective or the right choice for your kids. That debate exists within the realm of science and reason and facts. That’s okay. What I take issues with is that first of all, anyone could actually think that giving young girls a vaccine will encourage them to have sex. That is just so weird! It’s not based on evidence or research or even common sense. It’s ignorant and in this case, potentially dangerous. It is the exact same argument that many make against birth control and it has been disproved time and time again. The second issue is that Bishop Henry has a role to play at all. This is a health decision and as I already mentioned, a publicly funded institution. He can say what he wants at the pulpit but the school trustees should be ashamed of themselves for cow-towing to his religious authority.
I can’t believe I actually used to have a framed picture of Bishop Fred Henry in my house. What the hell was I thinking?