Friday, March 10, 2006

Preserving Pay To Play

Two weeks back, I waded into the great political morass known as the abortion debate in order to discuss some of the seemingly inconsistent positions taken by the "pro-life" side with respect to fertility clinics, stem cell research and related issues of embryonic sanctity. It was my thesis that those inconsistencies reveal the existence of certain underlying motivations (sub-conscious and otherwise) for championing the pro-life agenda that have more to do with issues of women's sexuality - and human sexuality more generally speaking - than the belief that a fertilized egg is a human being. As I laid out, the embryo-as-human belief was only being applied in selective contexts by far too many on the pro-life side - contexts relating to women and sexuality specifically speaking.

One topic I did not discuss in that post (it was long enough as is, no?) were issues related to the interplay between socially conservative beliefs about human sexuality and access to treatments and cures for sexually transmitted diseases. One such controversial intersection of those two forces has to do with vaccines for the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). While many strains of the virus are relatively harmless, some lead to cervical cancer in women - while men avoid such catastrophic outcomes for obvious, anatomical reasons.

In what should be deemed an untenable position, many social conservatives and pro-life groups are opposing widespread distribution of the vaccine on the grounds that it could lower the risks associated with sex - thus leading to more sex - or, in the alternative, that administering the vaccine to high school girls would send the wrong message about condoning pre-marital sexual activity.

Something to consider when assessing the willingness on the part of social conservatives to sacrifice women on the altar of sexual chastity:

Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing more than 3,700.

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains.

With those incredible stakes in mind, take a look the "pro-life" concern for human life in action. Not sex mind you. The dignity and sacredness of human life.

"Some people have raised the issue of whether this vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that, 'We expect you to be sexually active,' " said Reginald Finger, a doctor trained in public health who served as a medical analyst for Focus on the Family before being appointed to the ACIP in 2003, in a telephone interview.

"There are people who sense that it could cause people to feel like sexual behaviors are safer if they are vaccinated and may lead to more sexual behavior because they feel safe," said Finger...[...]

Conservative medical groups have been fielding calls from concerned parents and organizations, officials said.

"I've talked to some who have said, 'This is going to sabotage our abstinence message,' " said Gene Rudd, associate executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.[...]

"Parents should have the choice. There are those who would say, 'We can provide a better, healthier alternative than the vaccine, and that is to teach abstinence,' " Rudd said.
I try to be open-minded and sensitive to the beliefs of others, but positions such as these I cannot accommodate. The position that thousands of women dying each year is preferable to the prospect of less pernicious - the more frequent - sexual activity is just beyond my ability to fathom. But wait, it gets worse. Andrew Sullivan (an, er, interested party I suppose), relays this bit of information as quoted from a New Yorker article by Michael Specter (via Atrios). Note the reappearance of our friend Reginald Finger [emphasis mine]:

"Religious conservatives are unapologetic; not only do they believe that mass use of an HPV vaccine or the availability of emergency contraception will encourage adolescents to engage in unacceptable sexual behavior; some have even stated that they would feel similarly about an H.I.V. vaccine, if one became available. 'We would have to look at that closely,' Reginald Finger, an evangelical Christian and a former medical adviser to the conservative political organization Focus on the Family, said. 'With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition' - a medical term for the absence of fear - 'would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care.' Finger sits on the Centers for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which makes those recommendations."
They would have to treat a potential H.I.V. vaccine "with a great deal of care" because of the impact it could have on sexual mores. Let that sink in. And then remind me again how it's not all about sex. Just concern for human life. At least in this case, it's not just women bearing the brunt. Makes you feel better about it, doesn't it?

Culture of Life. Feh.

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