Parent Rights and Children’s Health: Inseparable

Gainesville, Florida – October 13, 2011 – The American College of Pediatricians (The College) is alarmed by California’s recent enactment of a law that disrespects the parent-child relationship and under cuts parental authority in the management of healthcare for the child.

On October 9, 2011 California’s Governor Brown enacted a law that allows children as young as twelve to receive vaccinations and other medications to prevent STIs, including the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination,without parental knowledge or consent. While the College is committed to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and to the immunization of children, this law wrongly places the responsibility for important healthcare decision-making on a generally immature adolescent and excludes those who know the child best — the parents.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and also the cause of many cancers. Vaccines against HPV were introduced in 2006 for females and in 2009 for males. Thus far the vaccines have been found to be safe and effective at preventing infection by some strains of HPV. It will be several years, however, before science can establish whether or not there are long-term side effects and if the vaccines actually prevent cancer in-situ or cancers themselves better than current screening and treatment methods. The adolescent brain is not developed or mature enough until the mid-twenties to process these uncertainties and to think through the potential consequences.

Parents rightly bear the primary responsibility for their children’s health. Consequently, government should enact laws to assist parents in making the best decisions for their children, especially regarding matters of sexual health. Bypassing parental involvement eliminates one of the most powerful deterrents to sexual activity – communication of parental expectations. Firm statements from parents that sex should be reserved for marriage have been found to be very effective in delaying sexual debut thus protecting against STIs.

For these reasons the College favors offering HPV vaccination as an option to parents but does not support mandating vaccination or bypassing parental consent. The College recommends age-appropriate sexuality and relationship education that partners with parents to promote the knowledge and skills necessary to delay sexual involvement, with the goal of preparing for sex exclusively within the context of marriage as the optimal response to this country’s present STI epidemic.