Americans continue to be indoctrinated with the false idea that the government has our best interests at heart and we should trust them to do what's best for us. With this rationale firmly in hand, the government has been playing fast and loose with the Bill of Rights and our Constitution, with scant regard for individual freedoms. As a result, we have seen the government illegally listening in on our phone calls, conducting illegal searches of our homes, holding individuals without letting them see an attorney or be brought before a judge and doing a host of other illegal acts that have more in common with a totalitarian regime than a constitutional republic.
To that laundry list of violations can be added one more—parents' rights, one of our most fundamental constitutional safeguards, which continues to take a terrible beating. It has long been understood that parents have the paramount right to direct the upbringing of their children. This is considered a fundamental right and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government considers itself a greater authority on the welfare of the family than parents themselves. For example, an increasing number of state legislatures want to call the shots on juvenile medical care by mandating that school-aged girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted disease, human papillomavirus (HPV).
In February 2007, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring girls entering middle school to receive the three-shot vaccine, Gardasil. Following Texas' lead, the Virginia General Assembly recently passed a similar bill. And at least 16 other states are currently considering similar legislation.
Gardasil was created by the pharmaceutical giant Merck to stave off certain forms of HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that in rare circumstances can lead to cancer among women. Touted as something of a miracle drug that will save millions of lives, Gardasil, which received federal approval in July 2006, reportedly provides women immunity against two strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases in the United States.
With an estimated 20 million people in the United States suffering from HPV in 2005 alone and approximately 12,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, it is understandable that this would be hailed as a "miracle" drug. However, such enthusiasm might be a tad premature.
In fact, some medical experts contend that since Gardasil was only approved nine months ago (it has been on the market even less time than that), there hasn't been enough time to make sure the vaccine is safe. Moreover, concern has arisen over unforeseen side effects such as severe headaches, dizziness, temporary loss of vision and loss of consciousness during what appear to be seizures. Even the drug studies conducted by Merck (the company responsible for the Vioxx debacle) are suspect. Indeed, Merck has a multi-billion dollar motive to make us think the drug is safe. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, "Mandatory vaccination would be a windfall profit for Merck. If all of the 34 million U.S. girls and women in this target age range (9 to 26) got the HPV vaccine, which costs $360 for the three-shot series, Merck will stand to rake in more than $12 billion."
While there are certainly a number of legitimate concerns about Gardasil's safety and side effects, the greatest criticism about this vaccine has to do with the government's push to make it mandatory, which all but takes parents out of the equation. Currently, in states that require the vaccination, parents have the ability to opt-out by contacting school officials. However, if parents fail to opt-out or do not receive notice of the opportunity to opt-out, their daughters will be vaccinated. The best policy would be to require parents to "opt-in," which means the vaccine could not be given unless the parents first provide written approval.
If parents want their children to be vaccinated against HPV, that is certainly their prerogative. But they have a fundamental right to be the final authority on what happens to their children. And our government certainly should not be undermining this fundamental right.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.