Religion: A Public Health Hazard

by | January 3, 2015

On December 12, a Canadian Atheist post criticized Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Mike Del Grande for his position on HPV vaccines and on the Ontario government’s upcoming Sex Ed program. Although I sent Del Grande an email with the link to the article, Del Grande did not respond.

However, Centre for Inquiry Canada sent a letter to Del Grande advising him that

the efficacy of vaccines is wholly a public health issue and not a moral one. HPV vaccines protect against the viruses which are the major causes of cervical (70%), anal (80%) and vaginal (60%) cancers, and offer significant protection against several other types. We also know that when the vaccine is disallowed that a significant decrease in immunization rate is the result, as was apparent when the Calgary Catholic School Board refused to administer the HPV vaccine in their schools. The vaccination rate of students in Catholic schools was far lower (less than 20%) compared to students attending public schools (70%).

and to explain to him that

A decision by any school board to not make the vaccine available in schools would also be in effect removing without permission health care decisions that are every parent’s right. Such a policy goes well beyond the boundaries of moral teaching and into the realm of moral decision making, subverting parental authority in such matters.

Since Catholic school systems in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan receive public money, Catholic school boards in these provinces have no expectation that such a decision must be solely left to them. From a public health perspective, it is our position that there is no argument against making the HPV vaccine available to students in schools. We should be concerned first and foremost with the health and welfare of those we are charged to protect, and distributing vaccines in schools has long been known to be the most effective way in which to protect our youngest and most vulnerable against disease.

Del Grande’s reply indicates that the chair of Toronto Catholic District School Board can’t or didn’t read the CFIC’s letter closely and makes it clear he can’t write a professional and literate reply; CFIC had to insert a verb to make his reply conform to standard rules for sentence structure:

Well the media did a great job in making the news rather than reporting it. I used two examples of issues where a moral lens needs to be used when dealing with such topics. I repeat, they were examples. There was no mention to open anything up as the Star would suggest. But let’s be clear you have your job to do and I have mine which [is] to examine what we do in a faith guided morality.

In a post on its letter to Del Grande and Del Grande’s reply, CFIC asks, “Are Organized Religions a Possible Public Health Hazard ‘Vector’?” The answer to this question is yes: religion kills, maims and abuses its followers.

Moreover, when religion uses a moral lens to examine secular and medical issues it is working outside its area of expertise. Del Grande is giving “a faith guided morality” a legitimacy it does not possess. Yes, Del Grande has his job to do, and CFIC has its job to do. CFIC’s mission is to monitor and educate the public about the “increase in the troubling incursion of religion . . . in public health and healthcare. Del Grande’s job is to follow the Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines, the guidelines from the government that funds the school board he chairs.

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