Saturday, January 28, 2006


True Colours

You likely missed the news on the medical front that a group of US scientists announced the beginning of the end of a deadly cancer - cervical cancer.

In clinical trials, a new vaccine was a hundred percent successful in preventing the virus that causes most cervical cancer, the second-leading cancer killer of women in the world. Every year some 10,000 American women are diagnosed with it, and nearly 4,000 die. It now appears that with government approval and funding, we're on our way to ending this scourge.

This development was greeted with instant jubilation from physicians. Eliav Barr of Merck, one of the two companies to develop a vaccine, offered a toast: “This is it. This is the Holy Grail.”

It is, however, not so simple. It appears that social conservatives aren't celebrating as loudly as many in the medical community. Why? Well, the treatment is likely to promote premarital sex in their eyes.

Here are a few examples of comments on the development from some select social dinosaurs:

A National Abstinence Clearinghouse stated that they object to vaccinating children against a disease that is 100 percent preventable with proper sexual behavior.

On the HPV Vaccine:

What's with trying to vaccinate 10 year olds for HPV? Hey, while we're doing that, let's put them all the pill too! I know that when I was 10, I would just suddenly be walking down the street and the urge to have sex was just too much! So, we better vaccinate everyone against STDs just in case the urge is too much to handle! Don't they know that not all teenagers and college students are having sex? It's not impossible or unrealistic to expect young people to abstain until marriage - I know - I'm living proof! What it takes is parents getting involved and asking questions, what, where, when, who. It also takes parents to "buck up" and give the talk and tell their children what they think about premarital sex, talk about family values and, duh, talk about the consequences. When my parents were teens, there were 2 STDs, now there are more than 40. Now, this wouldn't have anything to do with better medical diagnosing would it? Or better identification? Statements like this are such utter bullshit that it makes one sick.

Factcheck: Remove religion and insert science. Follow the advice of experts, not ideologues, in determining who should receive this intervention.

Cervical cancer is caused by a virus, or group of viruses, known as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They are similar to the viruses which cause warts and herpes, though obviously far more dangerous. Like herpes, they can be spread by sexual contact, but only a few of those who harbour the virus actually develop cancer. Two of the major factors which cause the virus to become active seem to be smoking and poor nutrition. Although regular screening can greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women - thanks to screening, the incidence of the disease in Australia has declined steadily for the past 20 years - the disease is a serious cause of death in Third World countries, where standards of hygiene are poor, malnutrition is common, and societies lack the resources for preventive programs.

It is true that sexual activity can, and often does, cause HPV, it is by no means the only way in which the disease forms and spreads. Not convinced the Clearinghouse doesn't always tell it like it is? Read some of the other position statements.

On Homosexuality:

Abstinence Clearinghouse believes that emotional intimacy is an innate need for all people, but sexual activity does not replace true intimacy. Friendship with another person of the same sex is healthy, but does not need sexual activity to validate its importance. Research shows the homosexual lifestyle is not a healthy alternative for males or females. The male and female bodies are not anatomically suited to accommodate sexual relations with members of the same sex. Sexual practices in the homosexual lifestyle are considered very dangerous for disease, infection, ect. This lifestyle should not be encouraged as healthy or as an equal alternative to marriage. Don't you love how these groups drop marriage into all the arguments?

On Masturbation:

Abstinence Clearinghouse believes the focus of the marriage union is a shared intimacy between two people, a husband and a wife. The arousal response in individuals is the most easily trained response in the human body. Sexual self stimulation along with fantasy or pornography can actually train a person to bond to pictures, objects, ect., and may eventually leave the person unable to respond sexually to a real person. Sex therapists consider masturbation the first stage of sexual addiction for sex addicts. This practice should not be encouraged as a “safe” sexual practice. Stop touching yourself right now. Yes, that means you. Step away from your penis!

The Family Research Council head honchos said that well they “welcome medical advances,” it is with a great deal of caution. FRC's Tony Perkins said he would not inoculate his own daughter: “It sends the wrong message. Our concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence.”

At the heart of the debate is the fact that the vaccine works against the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. Since HPV is transmitted skin to skin, not just through intercourse, condoms aren't wholly effective against it. This has made HPV one of the most useful tools in the kit bag of fear carried by those who like to describe condom use as “Russian roulette.”

Abstinence-only teachers use HPV repeatedly in manuals that say students must be told that choosing sex may be choosing cancer.

The new vaccine would have to be given to preteens before they are sexually active. If that sends them the “wrong message” — that we expect they'll have premarital sex — what exactly is the “right message”? That we care more about their virginity than their life? And if you believe a vaccine promotes sex, is fear the only reliable promoter of abstinence?

Fear-mongering as a public health tactic is very popular this days. There is the endless disinformation campaign that links abortion to breast cancer. There are the burgeoning abstinence-or-else classes riddled with misinformation. In fact, California Congressman Henry Waxman (D) found that two-thirds of the abstinence-only education programs are teaching the “right message” with the wrong science.

The American government is pouring billions upon billions of dollars into teaching students that touching another person's genitals “can result in pregnancy,” that “there's no such thing as 'safe' or 'safer' sex” and that loneliness, embarrassment, substance abuse and personal disappointment “can be eliminated by being abstinent until marriage.”

The lessons of abstinence-only — and we do mean only — expand from the classroom to the drugstore. Tuesday, the FDA yet again delayed putting Plan B emergency contraception on the shelves. One reason is the right wing's belief that young teenagers will get access to it. These “values conservatives” believe — contrary to research — that the morning-after pill will change the night-before behavior. Fear of pregnancy is almost as useful in their kit bag as fear of cancer.

The American people need to ask themselves some tough questions. What will happen when the government's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices considers adding the cervical cancer vaccine to the list given routinely to children? Will social conservatives prevail over doctors and parents who want to add another layer of protection to the vows of abstinence?

The medical community is now working on various other STD shots - what if they come up with a vaccine for AIDS, which do you choose: an abstinence pledge or a cure?

Meanwhile, Gene Rudd of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations probably sums it up best when he acknowledges the worries of fellow travelers: “I've talked to some who have said, `This is going to sabotage our abstinence message.'”

The idea that a cancer can be cured by a vaccine is so exciting and controversial that I have dedicated my thesis to the topic.
I became familiar with Cervical Ca and HPV when working in a college clinic and it is quite impressive how aggressive the screening programs are. Probably about one positive test coming back every two weeks. Normally this meant that the Ca could be treated early and the woman would have a reduced likelihood of having to deal with a more advanced form of neoplasia (cell change). However, what is more exciting is that women could avoid having to take part in the painful and sometimes very trying procedure of treatment if (and when) the vaccine becomes readily available.
The idea that certain value groups are not interested in taking part in vaccination is fine, although somewhat infuriating. Hepatitis B is an STD and kids are routinely vaccinated for it under provincial vaccination programs. One might wonder if a study needs to be done on their likelihood of maintaining virginity after this vaccination. Another important theme coming out of this is that HPV (the virus causing cervical cancer) is carried by males and females- both need to be vaccinated, and both can carry HPV symptomatically. This is how is spreads so rapidly, and this is how women are turning out in high numbers with Cervical Cancer.
There are many people who refuse vaccination. Reasons range from Religon, to the disbelief in their efficacy to a belief that vaccines do more harm than good. In Lethbridge AB, there are a number of Hutterite, Mennonite and Netherlands Reform groups that have been refusing vaccination for years. In 2004 an outbreak of whooping cough took place near Pincher Creek and their was a massive spread because these people had not been included in the vaccination a few years previous. This incident caused a bundle full of tax dollars not to mention unnecessary illness to children who should have been vaccinated. Thankfully there is a vaccine for whooping cough and I do not believe there were any mortalities.
With the case of the Herpevac or Cervical Cancer Vaccine- it is a chronic illness and is fatal in 20% of the cases. Is choosing not to vaccinate worth getting a chronic illness? Can you make the assumption that even after your son and daughter find a partner to settle down with that their partner will have been completely celibate and have zero risk or carrying HPV?
For me and the health of the public I would say that the stakes are far too high in this case to turn down this excellent scientific finding. But hey, it's just cancer.
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