March 19, 2010
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been a media darling (if a sexually transmitted, cancer-causing virus can really be a “darling,” that is) since the Gardasil vaccine came onto the scene years ago. Since then, HPV – or rather, HPV vaccines – have basked in headline infamy and controversy due to the usual suspects – you know, safety issues, ages during which they should be administered, etc. Last month, two bills in the New York State legislature promised the most blockbuster media backlash to date. Akin to an epic movie that boasts action and romance, Senate bills No. S04779 and No. A778 together proposed not only mandated vaccinations to both young girls and boys in order to attend school (A778), but also advocated the administration of vaccines against sexually transmitted diseases to children under the age of 18 without their parents’ consent (S04779).
Senate bill No. S04779 has been put on hold, according to an email sent by New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman to a researcher for Merck’s Gardasil vaccine, yet the issues that it raises will almost certainly persist in future discussions of vaccinations against sexually transmitted diseases. The crux of the matter lies in the conundrum: parent thinks child is not having sex, sexually active child wants to keep it that way, and therefore child may not seek treatment or preventative measures for sexually transmitted diseases if parent will find out. Bill No. S04779 simply tries to provide said hypothetical child with an out – the parent doesn’t have to know. To a certain extent, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea…until one considers the other side of the coin. A sexually active child is still a child, after all, and especially since the wording in bill No. S04779 doesn’t stipulate a minimum age, who can say that a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old will understand the risks or other considerations in relation to any medical care, including vaccines?
Thus, in terms of providing sexually-related medical care to underage minors without their parents’ consent, we remain at an impasse. It’s not an issue that we can sweep under the rug, either, as (quite sadly, in my opinion) adolescents seem to be engaging in sexual activities at younger and younger ages. I certainly don’t have answers, but I do believe that any suggestion to keep parents in the dark in order to better provide medical care must be accompanied by a great number of checks to ensure that the minor has access to a number of resources and can truly be determined to be in a position to give an informed consent. (The question remains, however, whether a child’s consent can ever be considered “informed.”)
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