13 Jan 2009

Catholic board warned of vaccine ban legal risks

The Calgary Herald - Canada    January 10, 2009

By Michelle Lang | Calgary Herald

Several experts, including a lawyer and a cancer specialist, said Friday the Calgary Catholic School District could face legal action over its decision to ban a provincial program aimed at preventing cervical cancer.

Juliet Guichon, a bioethicist and lawyer at the University of Calgary, said Catholic students who do not receive a human papilloma virus vaccine, and later develop cervical cancer, may one day sue the district for banning the free shots on school property.

"The disease is so serious,"said Guichon. "The greater the harm, the more likely (people) are to seek compensation."

But Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry said Friday he doubts such a challenge would be successful, arguing the board has left the decision on whether to vaccinate up to parents.

"It will never hold up in court," said Henry. "I'm not the least bit worried about potential lawsuits."

The debate comes after the Herald reported this week that less than 20 per cent of the Calgary Catholic students eligible for the province's HPV campaign received a free shot at a public clinic. In the city's public system, where the provincial campaign administered shots at schools, nearly 70 per cent of Grade 5 girls were inoculated against HPV.

Experts and doctors say school-based vaccination campaigns are far more successful than free clinics, arguing parents are often too busy to take their daughters to receive a vaccine outside the classroom.

The provincial government announced last spring it wanted to inoculate all Grade 5 girls against four strains of HPV that are estimated to cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

While the program proceeded this fall in public schools, the Calgary Catholic School District and at least nine other boards in Alberta voted against allowing the program in the separate system.

The Catholic schools said a vaccine to protect against a sexually-transmitted disease sends the wrong message about premarital sex.

Health officials in Calgary and in other parts of the province set up free clinics for Catholic parents who wanted their daughters to receive the vaccine.Catholic schools sent details of the clinics home with students.

Dr. Eduardo Franco, a professor of epidemiology and oncology at McGill University, said the poor turnout for the public clinics is a "pity."

Franco, who has testified as an expert witness in several cervical cancer lawsuits, said some Calgary girls who missed out on the vaccine could develop the disease.

"Eventually they will be at risk because they will become sexually active," he said. "Then they will see how serious cervical cancer is."

He agreed with Guichon that the board could face litigation for banning the program in schools, adding that lower-in-come parents may not have had the time or resources to bring their daughters to a clinic outside the school setting.

But representatives with the Calgary Catholic School District said they have sought legal advice on the matter and feel comfortable with their decision.

Board chairwoman Marg Belacourt noted that Catholic schools provided information to parents of Grade 5 girls to make sure they knew about the public clinics where the vaccine was available.

"It's the parents who ultimately make that choice," she said.

At least one legal expert, meanwhile, said any claim could be a difficult one to win.

Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said there has been buzz in legal circles about the possibility of legal action against the boards.

But he said there are many factors to consider, including the fact that the vaccine was made available outside of schools.

"It would be a very complicated legal action," said Caulfield.

Although Guichon believes there could be a lawsuit, she acknowledges the outcome of any action isn't certain.

Still, she argued the board should reverse its decision.

"I would ask them to reconsider in the interests of their children and with respect to the possibility the decision might be reviewed in court," she said.

This article was found at:



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Winnipeg schools pick religion over HPV vaccine

2 Alberta Catholic school boards won't offer HPV vaccine

School bans girls from cancer jab

Catholic sponsored hospitals base access to treatment on religious dogma not medical necessity


  1. Calgary bishop’s HPV vaccine ban putting thousands of girls at risk: MDs

    Jen Gerson, National Post June 26, 2012

    Staring down the edict of a Calgary bishop who says the HPV vaccine contributes to promiscuity, a newly formed advocacy group is pushing Roman Catholic schools to allow students to be immunized against the sexually transmitted virus.

    Calgary is the only major city in Canada with a publicly funded school board that withholds the vaccine on religious grounds, the group says. This puts the thousands of girls in the city and southern Alberta at risk of cervical cancer.

    The activists, who include ethicists and doctors, have formed HPV Calgary in an attempt to strong-arm the Calgary Catholic School District into allowing vaccinations in Grades 5 and 9 with other routine shots.

    After more than a year of correspondence with the school board, they went public Monday and are calling on trustees to discuss the issue by Saturday.

    “In the letters from the physicians to the trustees, the word ‘children’ is used three times at least per letter. In the letters of response from the trustees they use the word ‘bishop’ three times per letter,” said Juliet Guichon, an assistant professor in community health sciences at the University of Calgary.

    “They have delegated their decision making to a non-elected official without expertise in evidence-based medicine or public health.”

    The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, called Gardasil, prevents the four strains of the sexually transmitted virus that most commonly lead to cervical cancer.

    Social conservatives oppose the vaccine, arguing it promotes promiscuity and implicitly condones premarital sex.

    In 2007, Ottawa provided a grant so that school-aged girls could be vaccinated for free; Alberta followed suit. But at least eight religious boards in the province still bar the vaccine from being administered on school grounds. Outside the province, only two school boards are believed to have taken such a stance.

    Dr. Ian Mitchell, a professor of pediatrics and a bioethicist with the University of Calgary, said HPV Calgary tried to present the latest evidence supporting the vaccine to the board, with no success.

    “If you are an immigrant, if you are not so affluent, if you don’t have a car, if you’re very dependent on an hourly wage, it is very unlikely that you’ll get immunization,” he said. “So we saw this decision by the Catholic school board as affecting all children, but really affecting the most vulnerable children.”

    The resistance can be traced to a 2008 edict from Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary and other Alberta bishops.

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  2. continued from previous comment:

    In addition to a letter from Alberta Health Services providing information about Gardasil and where to get vaccinated, Catholic school students were sent home with a letter from the six bishops advising parents to protect their children from “counterproductive influences and potential abuse.”

    “Although school-based immunization delivery systems generally result in high numbers of students completing immunization, a school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses ‘protection,’ ” it said.

    Not every school board agrees. After the Edmonton Catholic board allowed girls at its schools to be vaccinated, nearly 70% of them took up the offer. By comparison, the rate among girls in Calgary’s Catholic schools is 18.9%.

    Federal health officials had once hoped as many as 90% of girls would be vaccinated. Results have so far been lacklustre: Ottawa has the highest rate, with 75% of eligible girls receiving the first of three doses during the 2010-11 school year.

    Mary Martin, chairwoman of the Catholic board in Calgary, said students receive information about where they can get the vaccine outside school.

    “The overarching concern or issue here is that anything we do within our Catholic schools have to be congruent with the teachings of our church,” she said. “At the end of the day [we’re providing] a faith-based education that is in alignment with the direction of the Alberta bishops.”

    Vaccination advocates said studies have found no correlation between the HPV vaccine and increased promiscuity.

    “What we see anecdotally is that the children don’t jump into bed, they go out for recess. It’s hard to debate this because it’s not grounded in evidence or rationality,” Ms. Guichon said.

    Further, it’s possible to contract HPV through sexual assault and abuse, she added.


  3. HPV vaccince not as effective as abstinence, B.C. bishop tells parents

    Prince George bishop's letter was sent home with vaccination consent forms

    CBC News September 24, 2015

    Parents of girls attending Catholic schools in Prince George, B.C. have been sent a letter from the city's bishop suggesting that abstinence is "the only truly healthy choice" in combating the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

    The Rev. Stephen Jensen's letter accompanied a vaccination consent form, sent to parents of girls in Grades 6 and 9.

    "You need to carefully discern the merits of having your child vaccinated or not," the letter states. "While the vaccination program is not inherently wrong, parents need to make an informed decision and communicate it in a way that can serve to strengthen their child in the virtue of chastity and reinforce her appreciation of abstinence as the only truly healthy choice."

    No choice for students

    The HPV vaccination is offered to all girls in Grades 6 and 9 in B.C., who are entitled under the mature minor consent provision, to agree to have the vaccine administered, without their parents' permission.

    Jensen states in the letter that Prince George catholic schools will not adhere to that provision, and will only allow the vaccine to be administered on parental consent.

    Sexual health educator Kristen Gilbert told CBC News that she found the letter troubling.

    "I think we're giving the message that anything to do with sex is bad, and that sexual decision making is not the right of the individual, but the right of the people who perceive themselves to be in charge," she said.

    The HPV vaccine is designed to combat strains of the virus known to cause most cervical cancers, along with some other cancers and most genital warts.

    Read the Bishop's full letter at:


  4. Bishop Fred Henry Says Albertas New LGBTQ School Guidelines Are Anti-Catholic

    By Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press January 15, 2016

    EDMONTON — A Catholic clergyman is both condemning and calling for the outright rejection of Alberta's plan to draw up rules to assist LGBTQ students, particularly transgender ones, in schools.

    "Totalitarianism is alive and well in Alberta,'' Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary wrote in a public letter issued Thursday to his faithful.

    "This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular, narrow-minded, anti-Catholic ideology ... and must be rejected.''

    Henry's remarks come as the province moves forward with creating individually tailored policies in 61 school districts, including Catholic ones, to ensure that LGBTQ students are respected and can thrive.

    Education Minister David Eggen delivered guidelines to the boards on Wednesday and they must deliver draft versions of their policies to the province by March 31 for review.

    The 12 guidelines specify that transgender students be allowed to use their washroom of choice depending on their sex or on whether they perceive themselves to be a girl or a boy.

    It also states students be allowed to dress based on the same principle and play on sports teams they feel align with their gender identity.

    The students should be addressed by the name and pronoun that makes them comfortable, and can say how they want to be named and be recognized in official school records.

    Henry assails the province's stated goal of changing the rules to make everyone feel comfortable as a disguise for imposing rules that some must find intolerable.

    He suggested that approach "does not allow for any differing opinion. In no way does it differ from an attitude of 'Shut up' or 'Don't get involved.'''

    As for transgender individuals, Henry said: "In (God's) plan, men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity.''

    'Important things are never necessarily easy'

    Eggen said discussions with school boards will continue and there will soon be meetings with Catholic church leaders as well.

    "Certainly I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but important things are never necessarily easy to achieve,'' Eggen said in a phone interview from Winnipeg.

    "We'll receive different opinions on this, but I always take it back to first principles, which is to protect and to focus on children, especially young vulnerable children in regards to gender identities.

    "Once we do remind ourselves of those things, then it becomes clearer what has to be done.''

    Human rights complaint

    Last fall, the Edmonton Catholic School District struggled with a seven-year-old student who self-identified as a girl and wanted to use the girls washroom.

    The student balked at the school's suggestion to use a gender-neutral washroom and her family filed a human rights complaint.

    Last fall, the district's board members held emotional meetings as they tried to craft a larger policy on LGBTQ rights. One trustee told the media he believed transgender students "have a mental disorder.''