Center for Bioethics Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version



Debates over vaccine mandates raise intense emotions, as reflected in the current controversy over whether to mandate the vaccine against human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Public health ethics so far has failed to facilitate meaningful dialogue between the opposing sides. When stripped of its emotional charge, the debate can be framed as a contest between competing ethical values. This framework can be conceptualized graphically as a conflict between autonomy on the one hand, which militates against government intrusion, and beneficence, utilitarianism, justice, and nonmaleficence on the other, which may lend support to intervention. When applied to the HPV vaccine, this framework would support a mandate based on utilitarianism, if certain conditions are met and if herd immunity is a realistic objective.


Reprinted with permission from Project Muse. Published in Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Volume 18, Issue 2, June 2008, pages 111-124.



Date Posted: 19 September 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.