Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
As we can see from Tuesday's post and the response to it, it's not necessarily clear what we mean when we say "science" or "medicine." So let's put science and medicine aside entirely for a moment, and let's focus on two arguments against vaccines that I keep hearing -- arguments which don't appeal to science at all, but which are spiritual and behavioral.
The first argument against vaccines is spiritual, and goes like this: vaccines are an affront against God, because they imply that the bodies He created, including their immune systems, are flawed and are in need of artificial alteration or improvement.
Again: we're not discussing, today, whether vaccines are medically effective. That topic we will set aside for now. Today, we're simply discussing whether we can make a particular spiritual argument against the use of vaccines.
So, how does this particular spiritual argument stand up? Not well. There was this thing called The Fall, which messed up all kinds of things that God made, including our bodies and our environment. Since the Fall, it has become necessary to use all kinds of artificial aids to help us get by: we have to put Band-aids on our cuts. We have to use grips on our boots to keep from slipping and breaking our heads. We have to put salt on our meat to make it taste good.
Does the use of Band-aids, grippy boots, and salt imply that God made a mistake when He created skin, ice, and hamburgers? No. It implies that we've got trouble with a capital T ,and that rhymes with P, and that stands for "Poor us, we live in a fallen world, which makes life hard and complicated." We acknowledge that God made the world, and it was good, and it will someday be good again; but right now, we have to work hard, using tools, aids and remedies to deal with the problems we have.
If there is anything more to the "affront to God's creation" argument than that, I'd be interested to hear it. It seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.
The second argument is a little trickier. Again, remember: we're not discussing biology or medicine today. We're just discussing a few of the other arguments you often hear, when Catholics and medicine are uneasy bedfellows.
The second argument is specifically about the HPV vaccine, and (one more time!) it has nothing to do with whether the vaccine is effective, or dangerous, or necessary, or a lifesaver, or should be mandatory, or is a conspiracy. (Please note that you, the reader, have no idea whether I believe the HPV vaccine is good or bad, because I have never discussed that topic in public.)
The argument I would like to address here is a spiritual and behavioral argument, not a medical one.
The argument goes like this: if you want to avoid HPV, then be chaste. If you are single, abstain from sexual activity; and if you are married, be faithful. Giving the HPV vaccine to young people is a mixed message at best: we tell them to be chaste, but the vaccine winks at this advice. It assumes that they will not control themselves, and promises to protect them when they sin. Therefore, we should not be giving people -- especially young, unmarried people -- this vaccine.
There are many responses to this argument. In no particular order:
Some people catch HPV through non-sexual means. It's rare, but it does happen.
Some people catch HPV when they are raped or sexually assaulted.
Some people catch HPV when they are sinning, and they later repent, but unknowingly pass the disease on to their spouse or children.
Some people are chaste and catch HPV from a spouse who is cheating.
When people are caught up in lust, they rarely stop to check their vaccination records before deciding whether or not to proceed.
And finally, some people are sinners, and catch HPV. This is still a bad thing, because disease is bad.
I count six classes of people who may be protected from HPV. I can't think of a single class of people who ought to catch HPV. I can't think of a single word from the Church, from the saints, from the Bible, or from Tradition which says, "God thinks such-and-such a person ought to be diseased." And yet that is what the spiritual/behavioral argument against the HPV vaccine argues: that some people ought to be diseased.
Think of it this way: I have a child who is learning to drive. I tell her to wear a seatbelt. This is for many reasons:
Sometimes there are accidents which are no one's fault, and I want her to be protected.
Sometimes there are accidents which are another driver's fault, and I want her to be protected.
Sometimes there are accidents which are the seatbelted driver's fault. I still want her to be protected.
Sometimes, kids act stupid, and the problem is that they are not thinking at all. They get caught up in passions, and do not stop to think, "Let's see, what message were my parents sending when they told me to use a seatbelt? I guess they knew I would drive recklessly, and it is okay with them, and I will definitely be safe. Thanks, mom and dad! Wheeeeee!" This is simply not how teenagers think. They do what they want because they want to do it, and the way they respond to temptation says more about their circumstances, their temperament, and their overall upbringing over the course of years than it says about a putatively mixed message putatively contained in a syringe at a well-child visit.
Again: if there is more to the spiritual/behavior argument about the HPV vaccine than this, I would be curious to hear it. It's an emotional issue, to be sure, but not an unanswerable one.
Well, what do you think? Please do not make any comments about the medical benefits, drawbacks, dangers, or effectiveness about vaccines. I am not addressing any of that today, and am interested only in non-medical arguments against vaccines.