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November 17, 2005

Death For Thee But Not For Me

Via Unfogged comes the depressing news that oral sex, through the transmission of HPV, can cause mouth cancer.  Nasty stuff.  But this should be a near-moot issue.  We have developed a fully effective, perfectly safe vaccine for HPV -- unless it mutates, this should be an extinct affliction.  Actually, let me qualify that, unless it mutates, or unless the Christian Right gets their way.  Because James Dobson and Jerry Falwell and all the other knuckle-dragging soul savers (just send $$$) have launched a crusade to keep the medicine from market.  The rationale?  A lower likelihood of cervical cancer will transform their sweet, demure, submissive girl children into raging sex maniacs.  I'm not kidding.  So where most doctors would like to include the injection in the standard raft of shots girls get before puberty, the Christian Right would like to use cancer to control female behavior once girls hit puberty. 

Of course, under Robertson's rubric,  all God-fearing cheeseburger lovers should swear off cardiovascular surgeries.  Gluttony, after all, is a sin.  And judging from Falwell's jowls, he's got some repenting to do.  But if we just hand out statins and angioplasties to all these culinary transgressors, what sort of message are we sending?  Heart attacks, after all, are the punishment for gluttony, and we shouldn't let modern medicine get in the way of that.  But what do you want to bet that when the first bolt of lightning lances across Falwell's chest, he'll be enjoying the world's best medical care quicker than you can say the Lord's Prayer? 

This isn't, of course, the first time the Christian Right has decided health disasters or unwanted bodily outcomes are god's way of telling women to keep their sinful legs crossed.  The debate over perfectly safe, next-day contraception was won by conservatives despite science's bitter protestations, as yesterday's GAO report detailed.  And that's over a medication that's merely an increased dose of currently available birth control pills (hell, Planned Parenthood has a list of how to judge the dosage  when using the birth control pills you already have -- Plan B is simply easier). 

The Christian Right has shown no ability to end intercourse, oral sex, or pregnancy.  All they've been able to do is make the consequences more punitive and the involved more miserable.  Meanwhile, a thousand other sinful health choices ravage the religious community all day every day, but not a word, not an utterance, not a dollar is spent to ensure the gluttons and daredevils and Type A personalities have to endure the biological consequences of their transgressions.  Somehow, that hypocrisy strikes me as much more sinful than a high school seniors sexual dalliance.

November 17, 2005 | Permalink


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» Extra reason to get the HPV vaccination into widespread use from Pandagon
There's evidence now linking HPV and mouth cancer. Not much to add to Ezra's rant here, except of course to say that since mouth cancer is an equal opportunity risk for men and women, this might calm down the "But... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 17, 2005 6:38:31 PM


Good GOD, Ezra. The article you referenced was one of the most poorly written articles that I have seen in years. The premise is that hard right Christian Evangelicals are standing in the way of this innoculation and here is the only evidence offered up.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful," Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told the British magazine New Scientist, "because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

That it! Noting else. So now Bridget Maher's comment is somehow supported by Christians as a whole. No political moves against distribution of the vaccine was cited, no bills were introduced, no rallys against the vaccine...nothing. Just this one person's remark with a magazine and they are all now one monolithic opinion. The rest of the article degenerates into a general lesson by this liberal writer on the evils of Conservatives in general, apparently for the purpose shoring up the troops and repeating the mantra.

The paranoia of the hard left reminds me of the polltaken a few years ago that indicated that a surprising percentage of college educated blacks believed that groups of whites met regularly at the local level all over the country to devise ways to keep ol' darkie down. Well, that wasn't true either.

If these portals of the far left such as The Nation wishes to be taken off of the "nutjob" list, they need to publish less propaganda and more balance.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 11:15:07 AM

From The Boston Globe:
"This was the response of Leslie Unruh of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse: ''I personally object to vaccinating children against a disease that is 100 percent preventable with proper sexual behavior."

The honchos at the Family Research Council said tepidly that they ''welcome medical advances," but with a very frayed welcome mat. 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."

Meanwhile, Gene Rudd of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations acknowledges the worries of fellow travelers: ''I've talked to some who have said, 'This is going to sabotage our abstinence message."'"

Check your facts. Time to figure out what the fundies you support actually believe.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 17, 2005 11:21:30 AM

Point of clarification: RU-486 and Plan B aren't the same thing. The GAO report is talking about Plan B.

Posted by: smg | Nov 17, 2005 11:21:36 AM

And while you're at it, explain the rejection of RU486 to me? Perfectly safe, overwhelmingy effective, and bizarrely unable to make it past Bush's FDA appointees.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 17, 2005 11:22:44 AM

RU-486 is an abortifacient, while Plan B is a high dose contraceptive and does not cause abortion of an implanted embryo.

Posted by: smg | Nov 17, 2005 11:36:17 AM

Check your facts.

My criticism was the poorly written article. It was my first sentence.It mentioned nothiing about Leslie Unruh, the "honchos at the FRC or Gene Rudd. For these tidbits, the reader needs you, the "fluff", to interject and explain.

I hope you do better writing at your job than this author does at his.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 11:51:20 AM

If I can do one quarter as well as Katha Pollitt, I'll be ecstatic. And I stand corrected on RU-486.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 17, 2005 11:54:08 AM

My understanding is that the controversy over the HPV vaccine is not whether it should be legal, but whether it should be mandatory. Perhaps I am wrong about that, but as none of the links supplied give any actual evidence about who is opposing this, what they are opposing and why, I will operate under that assumption for the moment.

Legal and mandatory are two very different scenarios. Every vaccine, every medicine for that matter, has a non-zero chance of undesirable effects. Therefore making a vaccine mandatory has real consequences. If other methods (absinence in this case) can achieve stopping the spread of this disease just as well, it becomes a high bar to insist upon mandatory vaccination.

That being said, there is no doubt that a portion of the Religious Right likes the sex=death meme and wants to preserve it. I think that they are flat out wrong in doing so. If there are valid reasons for abstinance (and I think there are, especially for younger people) they should be able to stand on their own without appealing to fear. Besides which, I think most of us would gladly risk death to get laid, teenagers especially.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Nov 17, 2005 11:57:28 AM

"My understanding is that the controversy over the HPV vaccine is not whether it should be legal, but whether it should be mandatory"

Parents who care about their children (girls & boys)and don't have their heads in the sand about sex will want to obtain the vaccination. Let them.
Let the theocrat wingnuts do what they want. They'll have to deal with their own children screeching at them if they contract an easily preventable disease.

Posted by: CParis | Nov 17, 2005 1:12:54 PM

My criticism was the poorly written article.

Why don't you address the case at hand and your implicit support of the decision? Oh wait, I know why, you'd rather dodge and deflect. You've read the playbook well.

Posted by: Adrock | Nov 17, 2005 1:38:28 PM

You know what kills me about this? The absolute hypocrisy involved with the Christian right and gender in terms of waiting until marriage.

Many take the view that "boys will be boys" and are allowed to experiment before marriage while girls are supposed to be chaste. And even if these girls are, and wait until marriage, they are very likely to get HPV (70% of the sexually active population gets it) from their husbands. Or their cheating husbands down the line. HPV goes through condoms.

It's cancer, for god's sake! It can kill you! Show some empathy for human suffering!

Posted by: Kate | Nov 17, 2005 1:45:35 PM

"Parents who care about their children (girls & boys)and don't have their heads in the sand about sex will want to obtain the vaccination. Let them. Let the theocrat wingnuts do what they want."

Absolutely the best post on this subject. It allows all to have their way. Isn't that the course we take with the flue and other vaccines?

Of course, it doesn't allow for the caterwallering about the hated Christians so what's the point?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 1:52:58 PM

Kate makes a great point: HPV doesn't disappear at marriage. And guys are the carriers. If we don't popularize this vaccine, innocent girls who chastely waited for rings will still get cervical cancer.

It should be mandatory. Just like other *#$&#!@ vaccinations.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 17, 2005 2:18:59 PM

It should be mandatory.

It should also be mandatory for poor people not to have 9 children, too, but we don't do that either.

What Ezra would like not to address is the obvious politics involved. With the example of the poor, he may agree with me because he feels the poor have rights, even to their detriment. In the case of the vaccine, he doesn't feel that the parents of Christians have rights.

Perhaps he would also like to force everyone to have a flu shot or force them to take vitimins and make them eat their veggies. High colonics for everyone, like it or not.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 2:42:43 PM

A thought...what is to stop the grown-up child up fundicrats from getting the vaccination before s/he marries? Why waste the energy on theocrat parents of young kids - focus on the teens/young adult "virgins".

Posted by: CParis | Nov 17, 2005 3:03:49 PM

Great idea....get their permission as opposed to Ezra's 'Big Brother' madatory innoculation.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 3:09:03 PM

No Fred, it isn't the course that we follow with all other vaccinations. We insist that parents get their children vaccinated in order to go to school. We do allow them to opt out for "religious" and other superstitious beliefs, but the default is still doing the responsible thing and getting children vaccinated. Different states make the opt out process more or less difficult.

The bottom is line is that any girl who is going to have sex -- even once -- at any time in her life should be vaccinated for HPV regardless of her parents' superstitions.

This subject makes me so !&*$@ angry that I can't even begin to be coherent. Parents who don't vaccinate their children are parents who want their children to die. Fred, if you don't want your daughter to be vaccinated, then you want her to die of cancer.

Posted by: J Bean | Nov 17, 2005 3:32:19 PM

Yeah baby, it's similar to that other Big Brother idea of polio vaccination. Damn big brother.

Posted by: Ezra | Nov 17, 2005 3:34:00 PM

Sorry peeps, I'm as socially liberal as they come, but I have to disagree on this vaccination. Polio, chicken pox, measles can be caught through simple contact- therefore children who are going to be out in the general population need to be vaccinated.
HPV requires intimate contact - you can't get it from the toilet seat or holding hands or kissing.

It is a complete waste of time and money to try to convince parents who don't even want their kids to understand what goes on "down there" to vaccinate their children against a disease you get "down there". Focus instead on educating the vast majority of parents who are much more realistic about human sexual behavior.

Posted by: CParis | Nov 17, 2005 3:51:46 PM

Are you opposed to all mandatory vaccines, Fred? Polio, smallpox, MMR? If someone's religious beliefs mandate that they not get any of that stuff, should they be allowed in public school anyway? If one's religion forbids science-based medicine, that's fine for them... but what if they keep their kid from getting medicine?

I guess that's yet another reason why it's hard to respect arguments against this HPV vaccine. Because the people making those arguments aren't complaining much more loudly about the other 22 vaccines that have been mandatory for kids in some states for years.

Posted by: Cyrus | Nov 17, 2005 3:56:36 PM

There are of course a lot of vaccines that are not mandatory. Indeed, only a small portion of vaccines are.

As an obvious example, the influenza vaccine is not mandatory. Smallpox of course is not longer vaccinated against for children, precisely because the risk from the vaccine is currently so much greater than the risk of getting smallpox.

Whether HPV constitutes enough of a public health risk to require mandatory vaccinations is not a trivial question. Certainly the fact that individual behavior greatly reduces risk should play into this.

As for the poor girl who marries a guy with HPV and then gets it even though she was a virgin before marriage, I would think that there are a number of ways the presumably adult woman could deal with handling that issue on her own.

I don't, at this time, have any strong feelings one way or the other about if this should be mandatory. The tactic of presenting the opposition to this vaccine being mandatory as being obviously something only a theocrat would believe and that there is no legitimate reason to question this makes me skeptical of the pro-vaccine side.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Nov 17, 2005 4:15:14 PM

Polio, chicken pox, measles can be caught through simple contact- therefore children who are going to be out in the general population need to be vaccinated. HPV requires intimate contact - you can't get it from the toilet seat or holding hands or kissing.
---- CParis

There are of course a lot of vaccines that are not mandatory. Indeed, only a small portion of vaccines are.

The tactic of presenting the opposition to this vaccine being mandatory as being obviously something only a theocrat would believe and that there is no legitimate reason to question this makes me skeptical of the pro-vaccine side.
----Dave Justus

Well, it looks like Ezra and Big Brother have their task cut out for them. Maybe they will just have the courts rule that there is an inherent right to vaccination upon demand without parental notification.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2005 4:35:10 PM

The issue, Dave, is herd immunity. Not everyone gets vaccinated and not everyone who does get vaccinated develops immunity. If almost everyone is vaccinated then the non-immune are still relatively protected because their risk of exposure is much lower. So then the question of vaccination boils down to whether risks are less than benefits. Admittedly for some vaccines this is a difficult decision. For instance, death from chicken pox is rare while death or significant injury from pertussis and measles are much more likely (in an unvaccinated population). OTOH, common childhood vaccines (RFK, Jr. is wrong, wrong, wrong) have good safety data. Should children be vaccinated for all three diseases or only the latter two?

So the risk from chicken pox is low. Before the vaccine became available the death rate was something like <10 children per year in the U.S. from complications like pneumonia and Reye's syndrome. Chicken pox is a self limited disease. Most kids get it, spend a miserable week or two at home, and get over it. No harm. Compare that to the risk of picking up a carcinogenic strain of HPV. Most women have their disease picked up at a fairly early stage (cervical dysplasia) and are treated with relatively minor outpatient surgery. However, in the U.S. every year there are ~8000 (IIRC) who proceed on to cervical cancer. These women either receive a hysterectomy (and are subsequently infertile -- remember this is a young woman's cancer) or they die. All of them. Nobody recovers unscathed from cervical cancer.

Posted by: J Bean | Nov 17, 2005 4:35:15 PM

IANAD... but a couple of things:

1. I don't think any vaccines are mandatory (although public schools generally require that students have received them). Isn't the debate over the HPV vaccine about whether to add it to the standard protocol of vaccines that are routinely given to children? Will it become a "default" vaccine, in other words? If I understand this correctly, the Christian right's position on this debate is still detestable, but you can see where they're coming from. Lots of kids *would* end up getting the vaccine, even though it wouldn't be mandatory.

2. It's a small point, but I believe the HPV vaccine helps to prevent cervical cancer by innoculating the recipient against a couple of particular strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer -- not all HPV strains. I'm not sure if those are the same strains that cause oral cancer. My non-expert opinion is that that sounds like a pretty good guess, but one probably shouldn't assume that it's actually the case without proof.

3. Like most folks here, I believe that RU-486 should be legal and available. But it's a mistake to conflate its safety with that of Plan B. RU-486 is much more serious business. No one's calling for RU-486 to be available OTC.

Posted by: tom | Nov 17, 2005 4:35:44 PM

We vaccinate children against hepatitis B. That is also not casually spread. It requires the interchange of bodily fluids; shared needle use, intercourse, blood transfusion. The fundies argued against this one too.

The carcinogenic strains of HPV cause oral cancers (rare), penile cancer (rare, but treated with amputation), rectal squamous cell cancer (somewhat more common), and cervical cancer (most common). I just threw in the amputation thing to make some of you cringe.

Posted by: J Bean | Nov 17, 2005 4:46:10 PM

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