Barbie in the Statehouse

From the New York Times: "Merck said Tuesday that it would stop trying to get state legislatures to mandate the use of its new cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine is aimed at a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.... At least 20 states are considering making use of the vaccine mandatory for schoolgirls, and the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has already done so through an executive order." (February 21, 2007)

Don't you find something disturbing about this report?

Never mind that there have been no long-term studies on the effects of this vaccine on the bodies of adolescent girls. Never mind that the vaccine is extremely painful. And just ignore the fact that this is a sexually transmitted disease: has anyone thought of treating the transmittors, rather than the transmittees?

Why is it that (some) men cannot keep their hands off of women's bodies? Since when is Merck, or any other pharmaceutical company, the arbiter of what is right for children? What happened to the rights of parents in deciding what their daughters should or should not be exposed to? Not to mention the fact that Merck has a vested interest in making millibucks from the use of this product?

It seems to me that the drug industry has reached a new low in applying this kind of pressure to legislatures in order to push their vaccine. And who appointed the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the judge? What kind of expertise does he bring to the discussion? Another former governor of that same state has already declared himself the "decider" in matters which are beyond his experience. Do we really need one more?

According to the Houston Chronicle, " AUSTIN Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff met with key aides about the human papillomavirus vaccine the same day its manufacturer donated money to his campaign, documents obtained by The Associated Press show. Chief of staff Deirdre Delisi's calendar shows she met with the governor's budget director and three members of his office for an "HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing" on Oct. 16. That day, New Jersey-based Merck & Co.'s political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry and $5,000 total to eight state lawmakers." (February 21, 2007) That amount does not include the $6000. that Merck donated to the governor's reelection campaign. To make matters worse, it appears that Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, lobbies for Merck.

I don't want Rick Perry deciding what should be put into my children's bodies, any more than I want any legislature interfering with what I take out of my own body. Even the hard-line conservatives are saying that this order "intrudes too far into families' lives (and) the shots are too new and too costly to force on young girls." Nor did Perry wait for legislative discussion and action: he simply issued an executive order, making the vaccine a requirement for attending public schools as of 2008.

This requirement by government fiat strikes me as one step removed from forced clitorization, practiced in some African and Arab countries. True, removing the clitoris is a form of mutilation, apparently designed to prevent women from enjoying their sexual experiences and thereby supposedly keeping them from having sex partners outside of marriage. Yet in both instances men can't seem to keep their hands, and minds, off of women's bodies. In both instances, women and girls are perceived as toys to be manipulated by men at the men's discretion.

According to Elaine Charkowski, "women's bodies are the blank screens upon which men's standards of beauty are projected." Consider this ad for the Cosmetic Surgery Center in Woodland Park Hospital: "A normal shaped bust. A flat tummy. Regular shaped thighs. We all know what would make us look right but a lifetime of wishing won't make it so." Whose standards are these? And why do so many women buy into them? In the 1970's we entered an era of high-cost treatments to make women fulfill men's fantasies, including silicone implants, liposuction, plastic surgery and skin injections. According to Anna Quindlen, researchers have dubbed this syndrome "a living manifestation of a Barbie doll". Apparently we didn't learn anything from the cancer, birth defects and skin conditions resulting from women taking Retin-A to remove wrinkles.

Maybe the next logical step would be to require all Merck salesmen to take Viagra, so that they will reproduce as many Merck salesmen as possible to sell as many Merck products as possible. It's not such a leap, you know. If they're not very good at their jobs Merck could always pack the legislatures with them.

It is possible that the cervical cancer vaccine is important. Certainly discussions by scientists, researchers and physicians are needed to verify its usefulness. But that doesn't exonerate Merck from blatantly lobbying state legislatures to endorse their product. Nor does it belong in the realm of government intervention. One Barbie doll in a generation is enough, don't you think?

(It would appear that planet Merck hasn't learned anything from past mistakes: see this article from two years ago - wigglish)

c. Corinne Whitaker 2007