The fierce debate between Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry over using executive power to require young girls to be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) raises a very interesting question for all Americans to ponder. If state and federal governments use their power—not to mention the law—to intervene in public health related issues, is that a “violation of liberty interest” as Bachmann called it or do we view it as a necessary measure that would be considered public good?
This question runs deep through every demographic across the country. Indeed, can we draw a clear boundary where our lawmakers should not cross in the name of public health? On the one hand, most agree on the requirement for public school children to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP). However, there are many who question the extension of such requirements to HPV vaccines—those that protect women from certain cervical cancers—because of the social and moral impact such vaccinations might have on young teenage girls, as well as the potential destruction of parental choice to which this could lead.
There are serious public health risks that require immediate federal attention, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was established to address such risks. But, there are also those for which governmental intervention could qualify as “violation of liberty interest.”
Obesity-related health conditions place a financial pressure on our healthcare system to the tune of over $150 billion dollars a year, more than all types of cancer combined according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In an effort to ease this pressure, a number of elected officials have proposed a tax on sugary beverages. Republican Sen. Shane Cultra has even proposed a tax on parents with obese children, and suggested removing these children from their parents’ custody and placing them in healthier foster homes.