On the heels of announcements from Pharmaceutical Giants Merck and GlaxoSmithKiline about promising test results for a vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV, which is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, religious groups such as the Family Research Council have begun to muster opposition to the vaccine. Claiming that such a vaccine would “give licence for young women to engage in prematiral sex” the FRC is continuing to push abstinence as the best method for avoid HPV.
Annual deaths from cervical cancer are not at the horrifying levels of influenza deaths or AIDS deaths. Last year, in the United States, approximately 4,600 women died from cervical cancer. However, the HPV virus is common, and estimates are that half of women aged 18 to 22 in the US are infected. The infection usually subsides, but in some cases can remain and over time cause cervical cancer.
Religious organizations such as the FRC have decided that the vaccine, which could prevent HPV infection and potentially treat infected people (both male and female by the way) would cause a let down in the struggle against premarital sex. HPV is one of the big guns in the arsenal of the abstinence only advocates (AOAs). Since HPV can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, the AOAs claim that condoms are less effective as a protection against STDs. It is a hard truth that if no one ever had premarital sex, the rate of STD would drop signficantly. It is also a hard truth that people have sex. Single people do, even married people do it. Married people sometimes do it with single people and vice versa. Come on folks. The reality of the situation is this: as long as there are dark places to park and cars with back seats, folks are going to do the bad thing... Religious organizations or political organizations pushing only abstinence as a solution to these problems are naive.
Most troubling, however, is that in developing countries, cervical cancer instances are at their greatest number. If the rate of HPV infection is not deterred, experts predict by 2050, deaths from cervical cancer will reach one million people per year in poor countries. In the west, with better screening capability and medical attention, the instances of cervical cancer have thankfully decreased. However, it is in the west where the drugs to combat the HPV virus are developed. Because of the influence of religious and socially conservative special interest groups, the FDA has been reluctant to approve drugs that could be construed as enabling "promiscuous" behavior. Examples of this include barring RU-486, the abortion drug as well as deferring a decision on allowing the morning-after pill to be sold over the counter. If social conservative groups such as the FRC succeed in effectively barring the drug companies from gaining approval on an HPV vaccine, then this is essentially a tragedy waiting to happen. There is absolutely no good reason not to allow this vaccine to come to market if it completes clinical trials successfully.
Much has been made recently of the influence of social conservatives on public health policy. Over the last two years a storm of debate on the use of embryonic stem cells for research into treatments for afflictions such as Parkinsons or Alzheimer's has split the country. Senator Bill Frist, a medical doctor first supported the President's desire to minimize the research and then, in a supposedly lucid episode of reasoning, changed his mind and came out in favor of the research. The result: a conservative christian rally called "Justice Sunday II" disinvited Senator Frist to attend. Social conservatives and in particular, christian conservatives have not been shy in using their influence to combat what they consider to be a battle against the moral decay of the country.
I personally have no problem with someone boycotting, calling foul, or trying like hell to convince someone that what they are doing isn't right. It's all well and fine for social conservatives and evangelical christians to decry the moral decadence in the country. There's enough of it to go around. It is another thing altogether to withhold medical treatment that saves lives, simply because some feel that having the medicines available might contribute to a lifestyle they find repugnant. It is morally reprehensible for organizations such as the Family Research Council to oppose the development of treatments such as the HPV vaccine.