Wednesday, January 31, 2007

HPV virus, ethics and parental rights.

Kansas has a new controversy. A bill has been introduced in the Kansas State House which would require all 6th grade girls to be vaccinated against the HPV virus using a newly approved vaccine called Gardasil produced by Merck. Of course the religious right is opposed to this bill claiming that it usurps parental rights and promotes sexual promiscuity. The significance of this vaccine is that is 20 million people are infected with this virus in the United States and the virus is a leading cause of cervical cancer.

Personally both these arguments are wearing a bit thin. Having a vaccine is not really going to contribute to sexual promiscuity as far as I can tell; teens are already sexually active today even in the absence of this sort of vaccine. The way the opponents of this vaccine really think should be obvious from this statement by a Texas Parent quoted in the Journal World:

“What they are proposing is vaccinating a bunch of healthy girls that are responsible and that do come from good homes for the benefit of irresponsible people,” said Dawn Richardson, a co-founder of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education.

Uh huh...good Christian homes and probably the right kind of Christian too. Further the benefit is for the kids. Sooner or later that 'responsible' girl may want to have kids and that generally requires having sex with a man who may or may not have been 'responsible'. The kicker is that men can transmit the virus and then it is too late to take the vaccine.

In fact one might ask why the vaccine is not being required for 6th grade boys as well. Not only can boys carry the virus but it turns out, and this was news to me, that the same HPV viral strains that cause cervical cancer are a leading cause of anal cancer in gay men. So requiring the vaccine for 6th grade boys would serve an double function. Of course the right would say no responsible person would be gay...but I suspect my readers know what I think about that argument.

I note that the Kansas Bill has an opt out provision to accommodate parent's who have "medical, moral or philosophical" objections. This is in line with provisions for other sorts of medical procedures. But you know that argument is wearing thin as well. We are letting parents put their kids at long term risk on a philosophical whim?

OK maybe that isn't fair..but in my more ornery moments I wonder if it is right for parents to force the consequences of their philosophies on their kids in matters of health and education. It's one thing to tell your kids what you believe and teach them your values and how you hope they would grow up. But when it comes to something that is harmful to them, opting out of medical procedures that are beneficial to the children puts them on the line for YOUR beliefs. That sounds uncomfortably like child endangerment to me.

**Ornery alert**

The latest wrinkle is that Merck is allegedly is funding a push in state legislatures to require vaccinations for HPV. I am more than a little uneasy about this and agree with conservatives who wonder if the relationship between Merck and an organization called Women in Government is a bit 'too cozy'. Of course Merck is only following the lead of other businesses that have injected themselves into other debates by funding front organizations. These same Conservatives get upset about Merck but ignore big oil's funding of front groups skeptical of global warming. Seems there is good coziness (opposed to hard line toward global warming) versus bad coziness (protecting kids).

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