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The Gardisil Paradox

An impending move to the East Coast has kept me off the radar screen for most of the last week, but it's worth elaborating on Guy's post below, rightfully calling out Michele Bachmann for her irresponsible (and self-immolating) remarks linking autism and vaccines.

In a sense, the Gardasil vaccine issue reminds me of Michelle Obama's healthy food/exercise initiative.  The problem with both of them is the following paradox: Those who are most likely to need them most likely aren't paying any attention; those who need them least are the ones who are hounded, pounded and overwhelmed by the heavy hand (or booming voice) of a nanny government.

Let's put it this way: All the moms who read the labels on food and make a decent effort to provide their children with reasonably healthy and well-balanced meals are also more likely to be the ones who are reading the paper, listening to talk radio, or otherwise in a position to be exposed to all the constant refrain about the importance of children eating properly (mostly stuff they already know anyway).  

The ones who basically allow their children to eat many (if not most) of their week's meals at McDonalds are, for the most part, not those who are in a position to be influenced by "public service campaigns" -- either because they don't know, or else because they don't care.  If Michelle Obama can reach them and persuade them in some way that other media cannot, then good for her (again, so long as none of it is legally mandated, so as to interfere with the control that reasonably health-conscious parents should have over their children's eating).

Just as it's outrageous to scrutinize every bite that goes into the mouth of a child who's generally properly nourished and cared for by his/her parents, It's outrageous to tell the parents of protected, cherished little girls of 10 or 11 that their daughters must be vaccinated -- by law -- against a health threat that is related to sexual activity.  Most parents who are involved enough in their children's lives to care about their sexual activity (and to urge abstinence before marriage, or at least until maturity) are those least in need of mandatory Gardisil vaccinations, and most likely to resent a mandate for them.  

The tougher call comes with Gardisil analogue to the "McDonald's children" referenced above -- those who have parents who either don't know or don't care whether they are sexually active (( as I pointed out in my book Prude, especially when it comes to sexual activity, parental indifference or ignorance about sexual activity can be found throughout the socioeconomic spectrum).  It's tough to think of those little girls -- already victimized by parental neglect, indifference or worse -- being victimized again by cervical cancer.

And that's the problem with the encroaching nanny state.  Those who are in a position to be bullied most by it -- and who find it the most superfluous and intrusive -- are those who need it least.  The flipside?  After almost fifty years of Big Government programs, those who could actually use a little supervision most are often those who are least in a position (by circumstance and, sometimes, by choice/indifference) to be exposed to it.

As we keep lowering expectations for all our citizens -- in terms of behavior and in terms of being expected to take care of oneself and one's own -- the gap will only widen between the responsible and the irresponsible.  Accordingly, we will see many more divisive issues like the healthy eating and Gardisil -- where government acts that are disgusting incursions on the freedom of the responsible seem increasingly necessary to safeguard the ignorant or irresponsible.


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