Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Health vs. Politics: A lose-lose situation

The Dr. Susan Wood lecture last Wednesday proved a study in the dangers of allowing politics to seep into the medical field. As the head of Women's Health at the FDA, Dr. Wood resigned over this encroachment after the controversy over the Plan B emergecny contraceptive pill resulted in its failure to gain full over-the-counter approval for all age groups. Currently, those 18 and older can purchase it OTC, a decision that was made only this past August after intense lobbying by women's groups and various legislators.

The FDA's postponement of this approval was in no manner due to any concerns over health or safety, but rather political pressure from certain groups who disagreed with the concept of emergency contraception, not to mention readily available EC, which could be purchased by anyone, of any age. Thus, a decision which should have been rooted solely in science and straigth facts was polluted by a political issue that should have had no bearing on the FDA.

Now, it seems as if everything from global warming to cancer vaccines contains political connotation. The Gardasil vaccine for HPV is a prime example of this. Proven to prevent ovarian cancer, a particularly deadly form, Gardasil promises to afford protection from cancer-causing strains of HPV for girls and women age 9-26. Despite the simple equation cancer=bad, Gardasil=good, much like the discussion around Plan B, opponents charge that this vaccine will promote promiscuity in young girls and teenagers.

Would critics be lobbying the "p" word if there was a vaccine preventing a similar STD in men? Is promiscuity only a threat to our nation's cache of young, virginal girls? It seems as if the classic male/female stud/slut dichotomy is at work here. As one absolutely ludicrous evangelist said, giving girls this vaccine would take the fear away from ovarian cancer, allowing them to indulge in more risky behaviors. Right. Because 9-year-olds should have the spector of Death floating over them.

It has become obvious that in the field of women's health, many people are not willing to step forward to best protect the interest of women. Instead of advocating medicine like Plan B, which could seriously reduce abortion and unplanned pregnancies, many are too consumed wringing their hands over its mistaken image as "the abortion pill" or the notion that teenagers will have more unprotected sex if they have easy access to EC. The facts are clear: Plan B is safe and effective. Gardasil is safe and effective. Would this much controversy surround a heart attack prevention pill? Of course not. Throw sex, gender, and medicine into the ring, however, and you've got yourself a good fight.

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