Parental Responsibility and the HPV Vaccine

Michael Gerson, like many good writers, writes best when he's angry. And man, is he angry over Michele Bachmann's dangerous campaign against the HPV vaccine:


The objections to routine HPV vaccination cluster in a few areas. First, it is alleged that removing medical penalties for sexual contact -- in this case, HPV and cervical cancer -- will encourage sex. A protective shot given to a girl on the verge of sexual maturity, in this view, may be taken as permission for experimentation.

This type of argument is inherently difficult to prove or disprove. But it is unlikely that a 16-year-old making sexual choices is focused on her chances of getting a cancer that might develop 20 years in the future -- a hypothetical event beyond the time horizon of the adolescent mind.

The more disturbing moral failure concerns any parent who would entertain this argument. Try to imagine a parent-daughter conversation about sexual restraint and maturity that includes the words: "Honey, I'm going to deny you a vaccine that prevents a horrible, bleeding cancer, just as a little reminder of the religious values I've been trying to teach you." This would be morally monstrous. Such ethical electroshock therapy has nothing to do with cultivation of character in children. It certainly has nothing to do with Christianity, which teaches that moral rules are created for the benefit of the individual, not to punish them with preventable death.

This approach to moral education may appeal to a certain kind of conservative politician. How could it possibly appeal to a parent, conservative or otherwise?
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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