Shame on me for not keeping up with the HPV vaccination controversy, but a friend has sent me an email provoked by this opinion article in the National Catholic Register, and by an NCR reader's response to it:
The article written by Maricela P. Moffitt and John F. Brehany, two leaders of the Catholic Medical Association (“HPV Immunization for Boys,” Nov. 20), has left me confused. It states the following: “HPV immunization can be an ethical option for individuals and parents to choose. Of course, no one should choose a means of protection in order to purposely facilitate immoral action. But the Church does not demand that individuals be made to suffer the full effects of their bad judgments. And healing and preventing diseases, no matter what their source, are acts of mercy.”
Now, if this is in fact official Church teaching, could someone please tell me how this would be morally acceptable but using contraception as a means to prevent an STD, such as HIV, is not? It appears there is an inconsistency here. And what about the cooperation-in-evil aspect of it all? Does not allowing an immunization for a disease that can only be contracted sexually suggest support for promiscuity and/or premarital sex?...could someone please explain to the Register readers how permitting the HPV vaccine is not an act of cooperation in a grave evil? I find this article confusing and potentially scandalous and would like clarity.
In answering, the article's author (one of them, a John Brehany) says that
The objection citing contraception is not really applicable. Contraception is an intrinsically evil action that always corrupts the goodness of what should be authentic marital love. Thus, the Church has always refused to recognize as ethically good a contraceptive act (such as the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV) justified in the name of preventing negative consequences or promoting other goods. However, preventing a disease — even one that most often is acquired through unethical action — is not an intrinsically evil action. Moreover, HPV may be acquired through ethical activity, as in cases where one spouse unknowingly contracts it from another. And so, different categories of moral analysis apply.To the reader's concern about cooperation in evil, he says further that
...no one should seek HPV immunization in order to facilitate unethical activity. And in explaining the benefits of the immunization, health-care providers should not countenance such activity or undermine the need for chastity and formation in virtue.The article's original issue was with a new proposal by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommending routine HPV vaccination "of all 11 and 12 year old boys", as has been the practice in some places with girls of that age (recall the controversy about this that got Rick Perry in trouble with Michelle Bachman). ACIP's rationalization for this policy was their goal of "preventing more cancers, 'gender equity' and adding a layer of protection for girls." I want to make it clear that the authors are against this new policy for both scientific and social policy reasons. Nevertheless, I'm not sure that Mr. Brehany has adequately answered the reader's question, which was the same as raised by my friend. When Brehany and his co-author say that "HPV immunization can be an ethical option for individuals and parents to choose," and that "Of course, no one should choose a means of protection in order to purposely facilitate immoral action," my friend is having trouble seeing what other purpose one could have in mind. He thinks parents who approve their daughter's being vaccinated are saying at least one or more of four things:
1. "We hope you will, but we don't trust you to refrain from sexual activity."
2. "We know you're going to do it anyway, so here's something to help take a load off your mind - and ours" (which set of parents is likely to throw in the condoms to boot)
3. "You might get raped someday, so just in case your rapist has this virus, we want you vaccinated."
4. "What if this stuff spreads by kissing, or holding hands? Doctors don't know everything. Get vaccinated."
When Brehany says - "But the Church does not demand that individuals be made to suffer the full effects of their bad judgments. And healing and preventing diseases, no matter what their source, are acts of mercy” - my friend says he didn't know the Church sat around relishing the sufferings people endure for their bad acts, or wishing that people who fornicated were strung up by their thumbs. He thought that the Church simply issued a bunch of "ought nots" and that it was just a fact of life that some people suffered for not paying attention. And when Brehany says that "in explaining the benefits of the immunization, health-care providers should not countenance such activity or undermine the need for chastity and formation in virtue," my friend thinks that the act of offering "the benefits of immunization" undermines exactly those things, since the benefits will only accrue to those who indulge unchaste and non-virtuous behavior.
Now I can see how a young woman who has decided to marry a man carrying the virus because of some debauchery in his past (of which he has repented, swearing allegiance to monogamy henceforth) might have need of the vaccine. Outside of marriage, I don't see the need for it at all. As I wrote to my friend,
If the Church counsels against the vaccine as a matter of public policy, that’s probably because it views use of the vaccine as betraying an intention to engage in illicit sex, or as a sort of backdoor endorsement of such sex by those who advocate for the policy... Catholics who advocate administering this vaccine to teenagers can probably be accused of remote material cooperation with evil, in that a foreseeable side effect of offering the vaccine is to relieve misbehavers of one of the consequences of their actions, and thus to make said misbehavior more likely to happen, not less.Which means that I, along with my friend, don't think that Mr. Brehany quite answered that reader's concern, but I could be missing something.