"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tell Someone the Truth

The earnest young women speak directly into the camera, begging the listeners to "Tell someone.....tell someone about HPV." The message is repeated several times, so the target audience will not forget that cervical cancer is caused by human papilloma virus. OK, so let's tell someone -- but let's tell the whole truth.

This message is not new. Medical researchers have known for fifteen years that cervical cancer is caused by a subset of human papilloma virii. Physicians have also known three other uncomfortable truths about human papilloma virus: it is spread by sexual contact, only females contract a lethal disease from exposure, and its spread is not prevented by the use of condoms. But this information has been practically impossible to glean from either the popular medical press or from direct questioning of physicians. I know because I've tried to get doctors to tell me what I already knew to be the truth -- and concluded that you already had to know in order to get your OB-GYN to admit it, and even then it wasn't easy.

Every young woman in this country is constantly harangued, beginning in puberty, to submit to annual gynecological exams including Pap smears. The Pap test is indeed a true marvel of modern medicine: a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and safe test that provides accurate early detection of a potentially lethal cancer. There is nothing wrong with advocating regular examinations, but annual tests in an otherwise young and healthy population would under any other circumstances be considered intrusive and unnecessary. At the very least, some consideration of potential exposure to the disease would be made, to offset the very real costs, both monetary and emotional, that high numbers of false positive tests entail.

Why the silence and obfuscation? And why no outcry from the interest groups that are usually eager to publicize sex discrimination in medicine? For years, the only ready source of this information came from the pro-life grassroots. I long ago concluded that organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood are not interested in advising young women that there is, for them, no such thing as "safe sex."

There is a controversy surrounding the "Tell Someone" campaign -- because it is funded by Merck, the pharmaceutical company that earlier this summer obtained FDA approval for an HPV vaccine that covers the virus subtypes responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers. Medical ethicists are upset that the information is being presented by a party who stands to profit. But they were not bothered, and are still not bothered, that no public or nonprofit agency saw fit to publicize this information in the past, nor are they bothered that failing to tell women all the facts about HPV will probably lead to many women to accept vaccination for themselves and in the future their infant daughters, without fully understanding that this disease is only completely avoidable, even for the vaccinated, by abstaining from sex.

The bioethics community is obsessed with "informed consent," but only consents to share some of the information.

2 comments:

Timothy Birdnow said...

Good point, Kathy!

Watching Katie Couric`s new drama last night, she featured a story on this very thing-and the thrust (pardon the pun) was that they now have a vaccine which they want to give to 9-12 year old girls, while instructing them on the joys of teen sex. THAT is what they have been waiting for. (Of course, you already knew that.) The piece kept stressing the need to protect your young daughters with these shots, and of explaining to them WHY they need to take them. (I had smallpox vaccinations when I was a child, and nobody told me why, but when it comes to an STD we simply must tell all.)

I thought it an interesting coincidence that you posted on this topic in the morning and we were treated to the answer from Ms. Perky in the eve.

Matt Huisman said...

Medical ethicists are upset that the information is being presented by a party who stands to profit.

Sounds like these would-be Sharptons are angling for a cut of the awareness campaign. 'Credibility' is not free my friend.