Friday, September 15, 2006

Honor killing on the installment plan

I went back to an old favorite news source today: newsmap. In the Health section, I found a link to a news article from the Phillipines about the HPV vaccine: "How many women will have to die?" I'm interested in the subject (we are expecting to see legislation on this matter in the next session of the Texas Legislature), but it may not be immediately obvious why the vaccine might matter in the context of HIV/AIDS.

The parallels to HIV prevention are, however, quite obvious. The same age groups are important for early prevention activities. Both have a significant time lag between risky behavior, infection, and the appearance of life-threatening consequences. The same moral issues have been raised as reasons not to use effective prevention interventions.

The Phillipine article gives a nice run down of the issues surrounding the full utilization of the HPV vaccine at the recommended time with the recommended population, especially the economic and regulatory issues. The "morals issue" got rather short shrift, however:

ANOTHER issue that has emerged in the controversy is that of “morals.” “Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful,” Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told the British magazine New Scientist, “because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation, comments with tongue firmly in cheek: “Just as it’s better for gays to get AIDS than use condoms, it’s better for a woman to get cancer than have sex before marriage. It’s honor killing on the installment plan.”

(a) I somehow doubt we'd ever see such short shrift given to the issue in a U.S. publication. Instead what we tend to see is a lot of reportorial vapors over the concern for the morals of young girls and the parental right to make life and death decisions for the future adults that they will become. (b) I think we've found the right description for opposition to effective prevention, whether it's prevention of HIV or HPV infection: honor killing.

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