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Austin Cline

Religious Objections to HPV vaccine

By April 19, 2005

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What would happen if scientists could develop vaccines against sexually transmitted diseases which cause health problems or even death? One would think that anything which improves and saves lives would be good, but religious extremists would likely oppose this because it would allow people to escape the consequences of sexual sin. Yes, they would rather see people die than risk an increase in sexual activity.

New Scientist reports on the problems facing a recently-developed vaccine for the human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer later in life:

[T]o prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries. In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus. ... HPV is extremely common. Half of all sexually active women between 18 and 22 in the US are infected. Most cases clear up, but sometimes infection persists and can cause cancer decades later.

Matters could be even worse in developing nations where 80% of cervical cancer deaths occur. Doctors may have to try vaccinating men instead of women because people will persist in denial that younger girls could be sexually active and, even if they are, they will only get what they deserve if they become infected.

A vaccine to the HPV wills save lives, prevent cancer, and increase the quality of life for millions of women. Religious people who oppose this because there is a risk that people may have more sex (unlikely, because the threat of things like HIV is far more immediate than the chance of cancer decades later) are putting their religious ideology over the others' lives. They would rather see women die than possibly have extra-marital sex.

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