Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vaccinating Against Sexually Transmitted Infections

Lately there has been much chatter in the political sphere about the vaccination for the Human Papillomavirus, in light of the recent debate among Republican contenders for the next general presidential election.  I propose to offer here what I would call a Traditionalist Lutheran view on the whole matter, which is not the same as a politically conservative view.  My position on this issue intersects with the conservative position, yet they are not coterminous.  They are distinct, as you will see, for the accent is different.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order that girls in his state be injected with Gardasil, the vaccination for HPV, he was surely acting upon his concern for the health of the girls and women of Texas, though a cynical assessment would also beg the questions raised by the curious coincidence of the financial support he has received from Merck, the manufacturer of the popular brand of vaccine.  His defenders are quick to point out that one could opt out of the vaccine, and that Perry has repented of the way he pursued this policy (ie., by executive order).  His critics on this issue point out that we cannot be completely sure of the safety of this vaccine (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a history of taking back its approval of drugs years after initial approval); that, despite the technical opt-out clause, the obvious pressure is on the girls to go ahead and choose the default option of getting the injections; and that a matter of this sort ought to be deliberated in the legislature, rather than dictated by executive order.  For the most part, these have been the parameters of the controversy as it has been argued in the political realm.

What is unfortunate to me is that conservatives, by and large, are not looking deeper, to the real issue of the appalling moral scandal of vaccinating our girls to protect them from infections and diseases that are sexually transmitted.  Even apart from a government mandated vaccination, as what happened for a time in Texas, for several years now we have been in the brave new culture of the HPV vaccine.  On the one hand, I admit that the distinction between having an opt-out or an opt-in is valid and important; in other words, the former still preserves the individual's legal freedom in the matter, while the latter places the burden on the individual to step up and say, I opt out.  On the other hand, however, in a certain sense the scenario which obtains where there is no such executive mandate, say, here in Wisconsin, for example, is just as damaging to a young lady, and it is damaging to our culture's moral climate.

Let us be clear. HPV is sexually transmitted.  I repeat, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI).  There is no case, of which I am aware, of someone contracting this infection without sexual activity.  Now let us be even more particular.  The promoters of the vaccine are keen to point out that intercourse is not necessary in order to get HPV, for all that is needed is genital contact.  So isn't my statement, then, that HPV is sexually transmitted, false?  No, for I do not define sexual activity so narrowly as to exclude everything but intercourse.

Young Christian men and women, I say this to all of you. Immodest behavior betrays the dignity of your person; it betrays your Creator; it betrays who you are in Christ; it betrays the Spirit of God Who dwells in you.  Immodest behavior brings with it deep emotional dangers, which only makes sense, for the body is a wondrously integrated organism, and compartmentalizing may seem clever and mature, but it is in fact an unnatural fragmenting of life, and quite dangerous.  And above and beyond all of that, the more we learn in the scientific realm, the more we see that immodest behavior often also leads to physical consequences.  Modesty is the best policy.  To put it another way, leading a chaste and decent life in word and deed (which includes such things as how you behave on Facebook and how you dress your body) befits your wondrous creation; it befits who you are in Christ; it befits your life and body as an abode of the Spirit and as a living epistle; and it honors the Triune God, Who has real plans for your life.

Yes, HPV is one of those physical consequences to which I was just alluding.  It is a potential and not uncommon result of contact with the genital area of another person.  And to be quite frank, it, in turn, can result in cancer.  Just as the dangers of the previous paragraph are interrelated, some modeling themselves after others, some resulting in others, etc, likewise, we cannot clinically compartmentalize life by supposing we can remove the danger in one area, and content ourselves that at least now our young people are safe from the physical consequences of their behavior. 

The media campaign, to which girls and their well meaning mothers fall prey, funded by the drug manufacturer, and the readily available nature of the vaccination, is in some ways a situation analogous to the culture of the acceptance of condoms (which is a stunning reversal from the social place of condoms just a generation or so ago), and their easy availability today (some public school systems even give out condoms in the nurse's office).  There are differences, of course, but there is an analogy.  And yet, look at how the thinking has broken down, or at how lazy we have become on these issues (issues which require of us vigilance).  Rush Limbaugh would ridicule the condom culture by performing radio stunts, stretching a condom over his microphone, and calling it "safe talk," etc.  Now there is hardly a peep in popular conservative culture about the inappropriate nature of giving our young people a medical treatment for something that they will never get apart from choosing to engage in sexual activity.  Instead the debate turns to the question of whether Perry will survive this politically, whether Bachman goes too far in her talk of the dangers of vaccines, etc.

A woman's brain is a wonderful creation of God.  To be fair to what we know scientifically about that brain, however, we must admit that it is not fully developed in its capacity to make emotionally mature decisions until around the early to mid twenties.  Yet there is to a large extent a hands-off approach to parenting in our culture.  The decision to get the HPV vaccine, too, is too often left to the girl and her mother.  How often does the father, even where there is one, assert his authority in a matter of this sort?  Just as the family is incomplete without the dynamics of the emotional subtleties of the feminine, likewise, it suffers when left without real leadership from the father.  Fathers, your leadership is needed.  Just say no to bad ideas.  And lead also by positive conversation and life.

And churchmen, can you not find it in yourselves to say something on these issues?  We can study how matters of casuistry were argued three centuries ago, and we should.  That is a fine endeavor.  But until we learn to promote consistently a culture of life today, life in all its fullness (which is not limited merely to protesting abortion), our people will be effectively left to their own devices against Merck, against the music and entertainment scene, against pressure of every sort, including the old Adam which rages in each of us.  It is the New Man, Christ Himself, Whose resurrection life renews itself each day in the life of the regenerate Christian.  Let us preach His cross, and His life, for His sake.  For He is the One Who takes upon Himself our immodesty, our betrayal, our sin, and bears it up the hard and lonely way to where it is all nailed to His holy Body.  He thus unites Himself to our sin for us.  And He rises triumphant over that sin and the death which sin produces.  You and I who are baptized are thus buried into that death, and immersed into that victory.  Our life is His.  His life is lived out in the members of the body, both in the sense of the mystical body of the Church and quite literally in the members of your body.  Let us bear all this in mind, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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