The Cervical Cancer Scandal and a Wicked Omission

The real cause of the scandal.
The cervical cancer scandal has garnered a great deal of media attention. The scandal, in summary, is as follows. The Irish health service offers women a free screening service, generally called a smear test, to check for pre-cancerous cells. In a number of cases the labs doing the screening recorded a false negative result. Some of these women went on to develop cervical cancer subsequent to this; some have died, others have a terminal diagnosis.

The scandal was not, it must be stressed, that errors were made. Mistakes will be made in any human system. And while it is sad that women die as a result of the mistaken readings in this case, the fact remains that the system works in the vast majority of cases. Before the screening programme existed every woman who got cervical cancer died from it; instead now a great number of women who would have developed the disease are given treatment beforehand and saved.

The Cover Up
No, the scandal is that the women who were given false negative results and later went on to develop cancer as a result were not immediately told of the error that lay behind their illness. They were understandably outraged when they discovered the important truth their doctors had failed to tell them. And the public were outraged also. Such omissions, such cover-ups, are effectively lying; and no one likes it when they find out that sick and dying women have been lied to.

Lying, particularly by way of deliberately omitted truths, plays an important role when it comes to cervical cancer. This will be discussed further below.

HPV vaccine and immorality.
The increased public focus on cervical cancer which has come as a result of the scandal has what some would describe as an ‘upside’. It has acted as a huge publicity campaign for a vaccine to protect against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the cause of this particular form of cancer. The vaccination programme provides girls at the beginning of their secondary school career with a free dose of the vaccine.

The vaccine, however, is not without its critics. Indeed, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinane sparked controversy a couple of years ago when he questioned the advisability of its universal application among female teenagers. His concern was that it might, by giving the impression to young girls that they were ‘protected’ from the disease, encourage them to behave promiscuously.

Immoral Advice from the HSE

Why, some may wonder, would the bishop have linked the vaccine with sexual immorality?  This is where we get to great lie of omission that is at the heart of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused, as mentioned above, by HPV. And HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, though one might never realise this when one considers the manner it is discussed in the public square. We hear a great deal about how developing cervical cancer as a result of acquiring HPV can be prevented by proper screening; and even more about how the HPV vaccine can help prevent girls and women from becoming infected with the virus in the first place; but almost nothing at all about the fact that one becomes infected with HPV as a result of sexual contact and therefore one can greatly reduce the likelihood of infection by way of one’s own personal choices and behaviour.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease .
That HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is no secret. Google it and it is almost the first thing that you will learn about it. Indeed, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease on the planet. There is no test to know if one has it and most of those infected will never have any symptoms or indications that they currently have or previously have had the disease. However, it is known that the younger a girl is when she first has sex the more susceptible she is to the virus. Also, the greater the number of sexual partners she has, as well as having sex with those who have had multiple partners previously, greatly increases the risks.

Abstinence followed by monogamy is the only sure way of avoiding infection.

Abstinence & Monogamy

It would make sense, therefore, that those who truly wish to reduce the risk of women and girls becoming infected with HPV and potentially going on to develop cervical cancer as a result would advise the following: that girls should delay the onset of all sexual activity until as late in life as possible; and that they should thereafter enter into a monogamous relationship with someone who has been equally chaste in their behaviour. It’s not rocket science. And indeed, although the  fact-sheets one would find online concerning HPV might phrase things somewhat differently, their advice as to how to minimise infection would essentially boil down to the same thing. Abstinence followed by monogamy is the only sure way of avoiding infection.

Liberal Ideological Mindset Harms Children.
It should be astonishing that HPV prevention by way of behavioural change is not part of the strategy of helping prevent women from dying from cervical cancer when it comes to the public debate. But it is not surprising, because anything that smacks of traditional morality, anything that suggests that sexual behaviour freed from any and all kinds of restrictions is not an unmitigated good, is a modern heresy against the new liberal orthodoxy and must be suppressed. And the lives of the women lost as a result of this suppression of the truth is a sacrifice that the proponents of this ideology are willing to make.

It is a truth, however, that we can not allow to be hidden. First, of course, because it accords with traditional Catholic teaching that when it comes to sexual morality that it is indeed best to wait for marriage and remain faithful thereafter. But also because it is an important strand in helping to save lives.

Screening, as we have seen, is imperfect; it cannot save everyone. The vaccine, lauded though it is, will not save everyone either. Vaccines will always fail a certain percentage of people, as any parent who has vaccinated their child against measles only to have them get it anyway will know. And the vaccine currently offered does not prevent all strains of genital HPV, only the most common ones. Nature, as we know, abhors a vacuum; and as we strike down the common ones there is no reason to suppose that that the rarer ones will not rise up to take their place.

No, the only sure protection against cervical cancer is abstinence followed by monogamy. And it is an important truth that our young people, boys and girls need to hear. Girls because it could save their lives; and boys because it would help them understand fully the risks they expose girls to when they pressure them into having sex. 

Ironically, we live at a time when the mantra is that schools should teach children what is ‘objective’ when it comes to sexuality, rather than according to a school’s religious ethos, should it happen to have one. Yet it is the Catholic religious ethos which provides the most objective truth when it comes to sexual behaviour, not only because it will help save the souls of the children in their care, but because it can also protect their health and happiness in this life.

Whose Interests?

There is no money, of course, in persuading girls to lead a moral life and save themselves for marriage. But around sixty thousand doses of vaccine each year (because soon, naturally, boys will have to be given it also) doesn’t come cheap. And the hundreds of thousands of smear tests done every year is big business. So no wonder nobody wants to talk much about convincing young people of the practical benefits of sexual purity.

One last thought Why are those who hold to a liberal ideology so keen that girls should be sexual active long before they are of legal age? So keen in fact that they don’t care what danger it puts these young women in? It is so evil a thing that it is hard not to feel there are demonic influences behind it. What better way to lead our young people to hell than to start them on a life of fornication young? Which is all the more reason for Catholics to make sure that people know the full truth of what is going on … and expose the wicked lies of omission that has coloured so much of the debate around this issue.