There are times when I really wonder about the logic of the religious right, when a new situation comes up that has nothing to do with anything they have fought over before, and they choose what can only be described as the pro-death position. And this is one of those times.
A federal advisory panel unanimously voted that Gardasil, a vaccine against cervical cancer, be mandated to be given to all girls at the ages of 11 or 12 (before the onset of sexual activity). Just last year, it was discovered that about 70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by a virus (the human papillomavirus) that is transmitted sexually-- though usually the cancer develops years or decades later, and Merck developed the vaccine that will prevent this virus from infecting women who have been vaccinated. If the panel's recommendations are followed, this could save the lives of millions of women. And as the first time an actual cure for any kind of cancer has been developed, I would think that most people would be excited about this. I know that I am. I have two ten year old daughters and I want them protected.
Now, there are some reasons why some people are against it, that while I disagree with, I can understand and see their logic. The cost, for one. At $360 per shot, and a battery of three shots required before the vaccine is effective, I can see why some cost conscious conservatives might be against mandating the shots. I'm sure that Merck is already listening to the cash registers ring in their heads. The mandatory nature, for another. I think it is stupid to turn down shots, but unlike for example measles or typhus, the virus that causes cervical cancer requires a specfic act (sex) to transmit, so there is no immediate public health hazard caused by an unvaccinated girl, and I suppose that if someone is stupid enough to opt out of the shots for their child, the state (and by extension school districts) should not make them mandatory.
So why is the religious right against this? Well, in a nutshell they believe that it will encourage pre-marital sex, especially in teenagers.
"You can't catch the virus, you have to go out and get it with sexual behavior," said Linda Klepacki of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "We can prevent it by having the best public health method, and that's not having sex before marriage."
Stupid, stupid and three more shades of stupid.
To begin with, no one had any inkling at all that cervical cancer was linked to the human papillomavirus until just about a year ago. And even then, it didn't make headlines for more than a day or two. And in all of that time, kids were having sex without any knowlege at all that doing so might expose them to the virus or cervical cancer. So, why would having a vaccine that would protect the female partner from a virus that they've probably never heard of cause the teens to think any different about sex? If they are going to have it, they will have it still, if not then they still won't. Think about it: telling them, 'Well, now you're protected against a virus you didn't know about before I gave you those shots' isn't going to change one iota of whether they will or will not have sex.
Second, since there is no positive incentive (as described a moment ago) then the incentive must be negative-- i.e. 'if you have sex then you might get cervical cancer.' Leaving aside my belief that fear should not be used as a tool to get people to be 'moral' (there is a difference between fear and an education about the facts), these people already know they could die or become permanently sick from aids, syphilis, herpes and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. So adding cervical cancer to the brew is unlikely to change any minds that haven't already been changed. In fact, I doubt if telling teenage girls that they might get cancer in forty years from something they are doing today will make much of a difference at all-- the surgeon general's report on smoking came out in 1964, and over the next three decades, smoking, which had been a mostly male activity, jumped through the roof with young women, to the point that by 1990 more teen girls smoked than teen boys. The decline since then has been due to a variety of reasons including education about tobacco and a perception that it is 'uncool,' together with better enforcement of tobacco laws and high tobacco taxes that have put it out of the price range of most teens, not fear of cancer.
Third, the virus can just as easily be passed on to a girl who is a virgin until marriage, if her partner has it. And since cervical cancer only happens in people who have a cervix to get cancerous (females), it is likely that just as many men as before will carry the virus. So the position of Focus on the Family will still cause even women who chose to not become sexually active in their teens to be unvaccinated and still be subject to exposure to the virus and cervical cancer later. Of course, they could get vaccinated before getting married, but let's be honest, how many newlyweds can afford a thousand dollars in shots? Does Focus on the Family pledge to pay for the shots for any woman who didn't get them in school and maintains her virginity until marriage?
Fourth, since cervical cancer doesn't usually strike until later in life, the price that these girls will pay for whatever they did in their youth, won't happen until they are mothers or grandmothers. So a family will lose a mother or a grandmother. And when it does, I'd like Focus on the Family to explain to a child who has just attended the funeral of his or her mother who has died from cancer why their opposition to this vaccine was the 'right' thing to do. Oh, I know, it will be decades into the future, but that is a tragedy that will happen (over and over) one day that we can simply prevent today. Except that Focus on the Family will fight hard to make sure it does happen. And that is why in this case especially, they truly do have the 'pro-death' position.