Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cervical cancer and the religious right

So there's a new vaccine that prevents cervical cancer by immunizing you against two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that cause 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. It's been in the news previously as the companies making it announced encouraging results along the way, but Merck has now announced that it was 100% effective over two years in a trial with 10,000 women and if everything pans out with peer review and so on it could go on the market by the end of next year.

Who could possibly be against a vaccine that prevents a deadly cancer? Oh, that's right, the religious right.
"Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
This is beyond ridiculous. Sure, maybe abstinence was the best way to prevent HPV, but now we have another way to prevent HPV that works equally well and doesn't suffer from the tiny problem that, well, most people are not abstinent. What's more, Maher is living in a fantasy world if she thinks an 18 year old is going to factor in "Hm, I could get HPV and maybe die of cervical cancer when I'm 65" when considering whether or not to have sex. The New Scientist article gets it right in adding the context that the religious right touts HPV as a trump card for why abstinence is safer than protected sex: they don't want to lose that rhetorical point. There's something very warped about thinking that saving up to 260,000 lives per year worldwide and 3,000 in the U.S. is not worth giving up this rhetorical point or the virginity of that tiny sliver of abstinent people who were so close to having sex that the HPV vaccine would push them over the limit.

One shudders to think of what would happen if we ever develop an HIV vaccine. "Giving the HIV vaccine to people could be potentially harmful, because even though it would prevent a fatal disease, people may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex."


Blogger Frank McGahon said...

You might be interested in this story

The directors of the Mater Hospital in Dublin have blocked a trial of lung cancer drug Tarceva because the leaflet accompanying the drug recommended that any women taking part use an effective form of contraception!

Followup comment by Alan Ruddock here relating this to an unspoken sectarianism (or more accurately an undue deference to religious orders) which persists in Irish society.

10/10/2005 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

How awful! Thanks for pointing that out. America is not the only industrialized nation afflicted with religious lunacy...

10/11/2005 11:55:00 PM  
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