Scientists are desperately searching for cures for cancer. Despite some breakthroughs, they are making a lot less progress than they’d hoped. Cervical cancer is a diseasewith few symptoms. If there was a vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer in women, wouldn’t you assume this country would embrace it with great joy? There IS such a vaccine, but most people don’t know it exists, and in the US, our daughters may be prevented from taking it.

Scientists now know that cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted disease called HPV, which also causes herpes. Early sexual experimentation can lead to contracting the disease, which leads to cancer later in life. Scientists have now developed a vaccination for HPV. If all young, pre-pubescent girls were given this vaccine, the scourge of cervical cancer would end. So why isn’t this being added to the list of vaccinations that every young girl gets? Because the FDA, under control of the Bush administration, thinks this would lead to too much sexual experimentation and they want to make abstinence the cornerstone of their sexual policy?both here and abroad?despite the fact that any family that agrees with this could simply not have their daughter vaccinated, since cancer is not a transmittable disease, like mumps or measles.

In the March 13, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, Michael Specter quotes medical researcher David Baltimore as saying, “I never thought that now, in the 21st century, we could have a debate about what to do with a vaccine that prevents cancer. What moral precepts allow us to think that the risk of death is a price worth paying to encourage abstinence as the only approach to sex?”

The Bush administration, under the guise of religion and morality, will probably direct the FDA to withhold approval of the vaccine. Specter writes, “The Bush administration has been relentless in its opposition to any drug, vaccine or initiative that could be interpreted as lessening the risks associated with premarital sex.” It has spent millions ofdollars on abstinence programs, while cutting funds for condoms in third-world countries decimated by AIDS. Specter writes, “Some [religious conservatives] have even stated that they would feel similarly about an HIV vaccine, if one became available.”

To read Michael Specter’s comments on this article in the online version of The New Yorker, click here.

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