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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Debate We Shouldn't Need to Have: Parental Consent for Kids' Preventative STD Vaccinations

Word on the street is that in California, children as young as 12 may soon be able to get vaccinated against STDs without their parents' knowledge or consent. The debate over this proposed law reminds me a lot of the 16-year debate over Illinois' Parental Notice of Abortion law. Basically, one side says that parents should be involved in major medical decisions for their children, especially when those decisions are precipitated by a child's involvement in premarital sex. The other side says that most children already involve their parents in such decisions, and those who don't have a good reason, such as fear that their parents would physically abuse them if they found out about either the sex or the resulting issue (disease or pregnancy).

Although I won't go into detail about the abortion law in this post, I do want to point out that these two situations are profoundly different. In the case of abortion, the child has already had sex, and the parents could theoretically be unaware of it. And, obviously, they have lost their chance to convince their child not to have sex in the first place. But in the case of the STD vaccine, the child may not necessarily have had sex already. He/she may not even have had any thought of doing so. But under this proposed law, an adult in a position of authority could essentially say to such a child, "Here's something that will make it harder for you to contract a disease from sex. Do you want it? We won't tell your parents."

What kind of effect could that have on a child who would not otherwise have seriously considered having sex? The metamessage that could be perceived is that it's normal for young kids to have sex, and that there are ways to make sure that nothing bad happens as a result. Is that a message that an abstinent child should be permitted to hear from an authority figure without a parent's knowledge?

When a child is in the position of seeking an abortion, there are obviously some dangers present from having had sex that cannot be undone by telling a parent at that point. From this perspective, I can understand those who make the argument against parental notice/consent for abortion, even though I do not agree with them. But my goodness, why not give a fighting chance to those children who have not yet "gone there?" That, I will never understand. After all, sexual purity is not impossible, children's bodies are precious beyond measure, and it is realistic to expect that they can enjoy an innocent childhood free of premarital sex, and save that wonderful gift for someone who will cherish them for a lifetime. If anything, that is a message that kids should be required by law to hear!

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