Catholic schools under fire again

By Joseph Tubb

Young girls attending Catholic schools in Calgary may have legal grounds to sue the school board in the future.

A group of researchers including University of Calgary’s medical bioethics senior associate Dr. Juliet Guichon and pediatrics and bioethics professor Dr. Ian Mitchell asked the Calgary Catholic School District Trustees to reconsider their in-school ban of the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil on Jan. 9.

Guichon said that there might be a possibility of a lawsuit against the CCSD in the future if an unvaccinated girl were to contract cervical cancer– a disease the occasionally results from HPV.

“I think it’s probable there will be an action,” Guichon said. “The very thought of being accountable in court as opposed to an ecclesiastical form is an important exercise for the trustees to take part in. That’s really why we suggested it; I don’t mean in any way to threaten the trustees.”

The CCSD Trustees’ decision was based on research they conducted as well as counsel from Calgary Bishop Fred Henry who suggested that having the vaccine in schools would condone early sexual activity. Guichon disagreed, citing her own experience as a student in a Catholic school.

“I can’t understand the logic of allowing one vaccine and not another,” Guichon said. “Rubella is also related to sexual intercourse and that vaccine didn’t cause anyone to be promiscuous.”

CCSD Trustee Chairperson Margaret Belcourt said the trustees thought it was best to leave the choice to the parents.

“We consider the parents as the primary educators of their children,” Belcourt said. “We sent the parents a package with a letter from the bishop and a package of information from regional health regarding the vaccine. We even went one step further and asked regional health if they could have information in other languages so that our immigrant families could get the information in their first language.”

Belcourt said although the bishop had a role in the decision as a spiritual and moral guide, they also consulted the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, the Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology Canada and various health professionals.

Henry was not worried about the possibility of future lawsuits.

“Sorry, but the possibility of lawsuits is simply a non-issue,” he said. “There are no grounds.”

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