Thursday, June 29, 2006

A New Stigma?

The FDA has passed it, now the government agency in charge of such things has handed down its recommendation that it become routine for all girls. It's the new HPV vaccine. I think it's a great idea. Doctors have long known that HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, can cause cervical cancer, but only recently have they announced that almost all, if not all, cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. But if this vaccine works as planned, cervical cancer may be a thing of the past. The key words here, though, are As Planned. The vaccine isn't against cancer but rather against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer. And people tend to get funny about sexually transmitted diseases.

How many parents, when looking at their sweet little 11 year old girl, are going to decide that she is too good for some VD vaccine? How many of the religious right are going to puff themselves up and declare to the doctor that only sluts need THAT shot? Some parents refuse to provide access to condoms to their children; are these parents going to pay for a VD shot, or put their little girl through one more pinprick because scientists in Washington only know the statistics, not their little angel? And will the self-righteous now stop getting pap smears, because they don't see themselves as being at risk anymore?

And what of the millions of women who are too old for the shot, or who already are carrying the virus? Is the local American Legion hall going to be as willing to host a benefit pancake breakfast for the loving mother of 2 when it becomes public knowledge that there's a sexual link to the cancer that's killing her? Will the public adopt a "She brought it on herself" attitude towards women with cervical cancer? Will these cancer patients go from being heroic fighters to sluts whose past caught up with them? I think back now on the women I know who have had precancerous cells found during routine pap smears, and I wonder if they would have held up so well through the news, or had the same support from their families, had it been known then that it was probably caused by an STD. I picture people being alone with the news of their cancers, embarrassed to tell their loved ones. I imagine women being ostracized at cancer support groups, told that they don't have the same right to sympathy because they caused their cancers. I imagine rape victims who have finally gotten past their traumas being needlessly reminded of it at a doctor's office years later. Cancer has to be hard enough to deal with without blame and doubt. I'm all for this vaccine and I plan to have it given to my daughter when she's old enough. I'm just waiting for the backlash to hit those who have or have had cervical cancer. It seems to me that all the media about the link to HPV may give cervical cancer patients and survivors a new stigma, like the one faced by people with HIV.

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