Monday, May 14, 2007

What If ... ?

What if we could prevent cancer?

What if we could safely give a vaccine that would prevent a cancer that, if a person gets it, means certain death?

What if we found a vaccine for a cancer that needs to be taken early to be effective?

What if the particular cancer is caused by a virus, would that make any difference?

What if that particular virus was sexually transmitted? Would that make any difference?

As we have become smarter and our science has become more advanced, we have learned that some viruses cause cancer. One such example of this finding is the discovery that an HPV (human papillomavirus) viral infection can lead to cancer in men and women. In women, cervical cancer, which stems from an infection from HPV*, remains the number one cancer-related killer of all women world wide and the number two killer in the United States (*editorial change from original post).

So you'd think a vaccine, that has been noted to be successful, and if used, would be administered post-haste to stop this horrible disease, would be warmly welcomed by everyone. But unfortunately, you'd be mistaken.

We now have this vaccine that is being used in several clinical trials. In each of those trials, scientists are excited. In every place where the trials have been conducted, the vaccine has been 95-100% effective in preventing a person from contracting the HPV virus. But, as some of you know, HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. And herein lies the problem.

West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico are rejecting the clinical trials in their states because they believe allowing them would be encouraging promiscuity. And since our religion teaches us that promiscuity is bad, we should not only discourage it, but punish those who do it. Okay, so they don't specifically say that last part--but they imply it.

In the U.S., it is estimated that 20 million people have it at any given time. Half of all women ages 18-22 who are sexually active, have HPV. In most cases, the symptoms clear up and goes away. But sometimes infections persist and when that happens, it can lead to cancer. In fact, according to the FDA, HPV accounts for 70% of all cervical cancer development. In total, it is estimaged that there are 6.2 million new cases of HPV reported each year. That's a lot of people, right? Shouldn't we be taking drastic measures to ensure that this virus doesn't turn into cancer and those infected with it?

Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council thinks that permitting the vaccine will cause more harm than good. More harm than actually killing a person, to be more exact. One wonders what kind of warm that could be? But Maher explains that using this vaccine would "undermine abstinence-only education". But she is assuming that if a person gets the vaccine that she will suddenly become a dangerous sex vixon who lurks on street corners picking up her johns and engage in other such nefarious behavior.

And yet, despite the fear mongering, reality has revealed to us that 95% of all Americans have had sex before marriage. One doubts that a vaccine will cause more people to have premarital sex. Sex is a natural instinct most people have--vaccine or not, people are going to have it.

In my opinion, it's one thing to have a religious conviction about sex and who should have it and when it ought to occur; it's another thing entirely to ban a life-saving vaccine because it violates that religious conviction. I mean, convictions are great for the person having them (or the persons in their care)--but to force that conviction on others is not only anti-American, if that conviction may cause death, then it is also sinful. I mean what's more important, your convictions or someone's life?

I know, I know, there are hypothetical arguments that suggest that ideologies are more important than life, and I am sure you can think of a lot of them. However, if ideology is favored over reality, then I believe a serious problem exists. Life itself is more than just a valued commodity--it is a gift from God. Life should be valued, honored, and cherished. In doing so, that value means we protect those who might be harmed or killed--even if in our protection, we offer something that may challenge our religious convictions.

This argument opens up a host of questions about faith and bioethics. What if a vaccine could be developed that would prevent HIV that later causes AIDS? What if that vaccine, if given to teenagers, would stop the disease from ever developing? What would be more important, our ideology or saving hundreds of millions of lives?


Huomiseksi said...

One such example of this finding is the discovery that an HPV (human papillomavirus) viral infection can lead to cervical cancer in men and women.

Men don't get cervical cancer, do we? I'm pretty sure I don't even have a cervix.

Bo said...

Whoops, I meant to say that men and women can both get HPV. And if men get it in their nether regions, it can lead to cancer.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Paul said...

The solution seems fairly simple: claim that the vaccination also lessens the likelihood of extramarital sex. Everyone's happy!! ;)