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Health care and family trust


Widespread discussions on whether children should be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, have drawn some attention in Hong Kong.

As HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer, which is one of the most common forms of the disease and has a high fatality rate among women in Hong Kong, so it is not surprising that the process of HPV vaccination has come to the fore in public health discussions.

Currently, vaccination can prevent several types of HPV virus, including types 16 and 18, which account for 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

In addressing the threat of cervical cancer, medical practitioners recommend that adult women have regular cervical smear tests and receive treatment as soon as any cancer is detected.

The ethical factors affecting the vaccination are not complex. As pointed out by the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in Philadelphia, the United States of America (US), and the Nathaniel Centre (New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre), use of the cervical cancer vaccine as such is morally acceptable.

However, as the HPV virus is transmitted through sexual contact, there are ethical concerns connected with vaccinating young girls.

US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention say that female American children should receive this vaccination between the ages of 11 and 12, before they become sexually active. In Hong Kong, one of the organisations launching this programme has set the age at nine or over.

This poses some difficult questions for Catholic parents, who need to ask themselves whether they have confidence in their ability to effectively impart to their young children the values of chastity or not.

The dilemma they face in a society that is getting more open in terms of sexual relationships is whether they should offer their daughters the vaccination as a type of insurance or safety net, or not.

The Philadelphia bioethics centre points out that the most effective prevention of cervical cancer is a chaste life and fidelity on behalf of both partners both before and after marriage. This also questions a married couple’s confidence and trust in each other.

In addition, it poses a dilemma for the Church, which needs to question itself on the adequacy of its support structures and the efficacy of its pastoral care in this area.

Parents have the responsibility to engender in their children a sense of pride in their own dignity and the sacredness of the human body, as well as help them develop healthy interpersonal relationships, especially with the opposite sex. This is a responsibility that cannot be shirked, even if their children do get vaccinated.

Some bishops in the US and Canada queried their country’s HPV vaccination programme, because it was mandatory, and they claimed that it indirectly deprived parents of their right to make decisions about their children’s upbringing and welfare.

However, even though there has not been talk in Hong Kong of making it compulsory, parents should give a lot of thought to issues of love, life and sex education for their children. Educationalists must also reconsider the life values they impart in their lessons.

The Church is not expert in medical matters and parents do need input from people in the medical profession in making these decisions. But since medical issues also have ethical dimensions, there is a responsibility to speak to the common good and a healthy lifestyle. SE