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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Cancer jab for girls?

28th June 2007

Following the go-ahead for teenagers to receive the cervical cancer vaccine, experts Shyama Perera and Anne Atkins debate the issue in the Telegraph.


For: Shyama Perera

Rather than prompting teenagers to become more sexually active, the cervical cancer jab will remind them they need to take a serious and responsible attitude to sex.

Concerned parents who worry that the jab will have an effect on their children's attitudes to sex should consider if they know any young people who are promiscuous to the extent that it has damaged their lives.

The NHS is planning to bring in the jab on such a slow timeline that the current generation of teenagers will not be eligible for it. Discussing the jab gives parents an opportunity to talk honestly with their children about the dangers of promiscuous activity.

By clarifying the potential risks, parents can give their children a positive attitude to sexual behaviour. It is essential that parents communicate with their children in order to give them a sense of responsibility.

Our society would not refuse to give an HIV vaccine to children in Africa based on the premise that "if they contract Aids they deserve it for sleeping around." It is wrong to say that providing a child with the jab could spur them towards promiscuity.

Denying the jab for moral reasons is insane. It is upsetting that parents in Britain do not take an active stance when their teenagers engage in drinking, smoking and drugs, but become hysterical when they take an interest in normal sexual behaviour.

By not giving this treatment as a possible prevention for cervical cancer "is ignorance at best, and morally murderous at worst."


Against: Anne Atkins

The rubella jab is given to girls aged 11 and 12 to ward against German measles, which can damage a developing foetus. It does not give them the idea that they should start having children straightaway.

Why is there an argument against the cervical cancer vaccine? Surely the two arguments are morally very similar?

They are not. Anyone can contract rubella, but in the main it is only sexually active women with a "sexually transmitted virus" who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Those women who do not have sex, or are in a faithful monogamous relationship, have such a tiny risk of cancer "it's not worth protecting against."

Whilst the rubella vaccine is given on the premise that a girl may become pregnant in the future, the cervical cancer jab will be given on the basis that an individual will have sex with multiple partners, who in turn have been promiscuous.

It is important to be clear about the message we are sending out, particularly as the UK has the highest rate of underage pregnancy in Europe and rates of underage sex are growing quickly. Children can easily obtain contraception and this promotes the idea they are expected to have sex.

Young women should be taught to value themselves. Sex education and current policy needs to offer a broader picture and encompass what truly makes up healthy sexual attitudes. This should ensure education "is about emotions and relationships, not just cancers and condoms."


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