Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

January 30, 2007

Woman Jailed in Tampa After Reporting Rape

This may just be the most shocking story you’ll read this week. The St. Petersburg Times reports:

First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed – for two nights and two days.

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.

The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t talk about her medical treatment in jail. But Tampa police are investigating why more compassion wasn’t shown toward the woman after she reported her sexual assault to law enforcement.

“We may need to revisit our policy,” police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

You think?

Turns out the victim was sitting in the front of the police car until the officer assigned to take her to a nurse examiner’s clinic found out she had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest. (The rape victim’s attorney said the restitution was paid and it was probably the result of a clerical error.) At that point, the student became the criminal and was handcuffed and moved to the back of the police car. From there things only got worse:

Jail records show the woman was booked about eight hours after the reported rape.

A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called “morning-after pill” approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday.

For the emergency contraceptive to work, the first pill must be taken within three days of unprotected sex and the second 12 hours after the first. The woman had already taken the first pill soon after the assault Saturday, Moore said. She was unable to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. The jail allowed it, he said, after media inquiries.

Lots of comments follow the story, 99 percent of them critical of the Tampa police and the jail’s medical supervisor. One commenter is already imagining the fall-out for this travesty of justice, “Well, taxpayers of good ole tampa, be prepared to spend a lot of your tax dollars to this young lady.”

Planned Parenthood set up a take-action message to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Check it out here.

Update: Police procedure has already been changed, according to a local ABC news broadcast. “The officers in this case did not violate departmental policy, but it became very clear that our policy is flawed if it allowed someone who had suffered as a victim of sexual battery to end up in the Hillsborough county jail,” said Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

So now shift commanders will have the authority and discretion to delay arresting a violent crime victim, according to the story. “The bottom line is it gives them the discretion that they can both have compassion for the victim and still do their duty as a police officer,” added McElroy.

In other words, the police will now use common sense. No word, however, if that applies to jailhouse medical personnel.

January 23, 2007

Plan B for Plan B?

Apparently, if you are a rape victim at Connecticut hospitals, you might very well need a Plan B for the emergency contraception known as Plan B. According to Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, an umbrella group representing rape crisis counselors, in the first half of 2006, 40 percent of rape victims “were not offered the medication or were sent home without the full dose of the drug needed to prevent pregnancy.”

The Hartford Courant reports that although that group and others are now pushing for legislation that would require hospitals to offer it as a routine part of rape examinations, they are facing stiff opposition from the Catholic Church. A similar bill failed last year.

“This tiny pill does not need to be given in a hospital,” said Barry Feldman, a spokesman for the state’s four Catholic hospitals. And he’s right, in one sense. The Plan B pills are available over the counter in Connecticut. But, unlike at the drug store, the state reimburses the hospitals for providing Plan B as part of a rape examination. Normally, it would cost between $40-$60, and it is only available to women (and men) age 18 and older.

Another important factor is time: The pills are 95 percent effective if taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex; the effectiveness rate is about 60 percent if taken 48 to 72 hours later. Why should a sexual assault victim — who is already at a hospital that dispenses medication of all kinds — have to search elsewhere for two tiny, yet essential, pills?

Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services emphasizes that the problem is occurring in secular as well as Catholic hospitals, but it is the fervent Catholic opposition that seems to be blocking the law.

Plus: St. John’s University in New York, one of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic universities, is prohibiting the on-campus performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” — “We fully support the value of raising awareness and education on systematic violence against women,” the Rev. James J. Maher, the university’s vice president of student affairs, said in a statement. “As part of our obligation to the entire university community, we also reserve the right not to support student life activities that we deem inappropriate.”

In 2006, Notre Dame and Providence College withdrew campus support for “The Vagina Monologues,” though Notre Dame’s president later reversed his decision.

Inside Higher Ed last year published a very good article about the debate at Catholic institutions.

January 9, 2007

Giving Birth in Iraq – A Father’s Perspective

Last week I mentioned this Washington Post story about the dangers of giving birth in Iraq. Yesterday morning I listened quietly as Saleem Amer, a member of NPR’s Baghdad staff, described his wife’s difficult pregnancy and the first hours of his son’s life in the hospital, where the threat of kidnapping by militias loomed large. Morning never looked so bright. Listen to it here.

January 3, 2007

21 Leaders for the 21st Century

Women’s eNews has announced its 2007 list of 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. “From a peacemaker who returned to her native Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban to help women run for political office to a Dominican woman who walked down the East Coast in a wedding dress to increase awareness about domestic violence, this year’s 21 Leaders for the 21st Century demonstrate the risks that women are willing to take to make change in the world,” writes Irene Lew.

Check out the list here. Honorees include Shelby Knox, whose advocacy of sex education became a national story when the film “The Education of Shelby Knox” aired on public television; Marisa Rivera-Albert, president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute; Bushra Jamil, founder of Radio Al-Mahabba in Iraq; and Jane Mansbridge, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of the introduction to the sexuality section of the first edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

There’s one man among the mix: Jackson Katz, co-founder of the Mentors In Violence Prevention (MVP) program, a violence prevention initiative aimed at professional and college athletes. His most recent book is “The Macho Paradox.”

December 18, 2006

One Time Magazine Column by James Dobson is One Too Many

Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson stands accused of misrepresenting the research of Carol Gilligan and Dr. Kyle Pruett, who were both cited in Dobson’s recent Time magazine guest column arguing against same-sex parenting, “Two Mommies Is One Too Many.”

Media Matters has a good breakdown of Dobson’s cherry-picked assertions and the response from Giligan and Pruett, the latter of whom has asked Dobson to refrain from quoting from his research in “media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission.”

Dobson began his column by noting that he and other social conservatives were asked to respond to the news that Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, is pregnant and will raise the child with her partner, Heather Poe.

To which I have to ask: Why? What does Dobson have to say that we haven’t already heard before?

Was it enlightening for any Time reader to learn that Dobson believes “birth and adoption are the purview of married heterosexual couples”?

Or that “traditional marriage is God’s design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth”?

Dobson writes near the top that implicit to the invitation to comment on Mary Cheney “is an effort to get us to criticize the Bush Administration or the Cheney family,” and he uses that as cover for writing a supposedly non-political response “about what kind of family environment is best for the health and development of children, and, by extension, the nation at large.”

But Dobson’s views on the best family environment are nothing but political — and pathetically over-played. The fact that he’s misrepresenting research to suit his politics is the only newsworthy item. Maybe Time will invite commentary about his truthiness.

December 16, 2006

Friday Double Dose on Saturday: Breast Cancer Drop, New Military Health Clinic and Healthiest Places for Women to Live

Breast Cancer Drop Linked to HRT: Rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped15 percent from August 2002 to December 2003, while rates for all breast cancer dropped by 7 percent, according to researchers. “The reason, they believe, may be because during that time, millions of women abandoned hormone treatment for the symptoms of menopause after a large national study concluded that the hormones slightly increased breast cancer risk,” reports The New York Times.

See also: the National Cancer Institute website about menopausal hormone use and the Women’s Health Initiative study, which included nearly 17,000 women. It was halted prematurely when slight increases in breast cancer, heart attacks, blood clots and strokes were discovered.

Replacing One Male-Dominated Culture With Another: “The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. Perhaps none have undergone a transformation quite like that of Ms. Hamdan,” writes Andrea Elliott in The New York Times. Fadwa Hamdan’s story is nothing short of remarkable:

Forbidden by her husband to work, she raised five children behind the drawn curtains of their home in Saudi Arabia. She was not allowed to drive. On the rare occasions when she set foot outside, she wore a full-face veil.

Then her world unraveled. Separated from her husband, who had taken a second wife, and torn from her children, she moved to Queens to start over. Struggling to survive on her own, she answered a recruiting advertisement for the Army and enlisted in May.

Ms. Hamdan’s passage through the military is a remarkable act of reinvention. It required courage and sacrifice. She had to remove her hijab, a sacred symbol of the faith she holds deeply. She had to embrace, at the age of 39, an arduous and unfamiliar life.

Continue reading the story here.

Military Opens Women’s Health Clinic: The U.S. military has opened a new women’s health clinic on a military site in Germany, and it’s the first of its kind, reports Stars & Stripes.

“Although women’s health clinics are fairly common at civilian hospitals, the concept is relatively new in the military,” writes Scott Schonauer. “The new building will have nine exam rooms decorated with the type of color and style not often seen at most drab hospital wards. Exam tables will an extra feature: They’ll be heated. The center also will include a sex-assault suite that will offer 24-hour care for victims. The room will be stocked with testing kits and provide a more comfortable alternative to going to the emergency room.”

Still, U.S. law prohibits military facilities from performing abortions, even when privately funded to avoid using taxpayer funds. Such regulations put the health of women serving overseas at risk every day.

Hospitals in Violation: “Some Massachusetts facilities violate the year-old state law requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims by imposing “serious restrictions” on the treatment, according to a survey by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts,” reports the Boston Globe. According to the survey, “officials at 7 percent of the hospitals with emergency rooms contend the provision for emergency contraception may be left to the doctor’s discretion. Another 7 percent indicated that such provisions were contingent upon the woman undergoing a rape exam.”

Male Circumcision Cuts HIV Transmission: News that men who are circumcised are about 50 percent less likely to contract HIV, based on studies in Uganda and Kenya, sparked this response from Broadsheet’s Tracy Clark-Flory, who looks at arguments for and against circumcision. See also Carol Lloyd’s post on female infanticide in India.

The Skinny on Thin: Jessica Clark of In These Times on “Thin,” a documentary by Lauren Greenfield about patients at a residential center for eating disorders. “[The recovery] process can be circuitous and frustrating, with many false starts,” writes Clark. “Anorexia is the most deadly mental disorder; up to 20 percent of sufferers die from related complications. Some even court it: ‘I just want to be thin,’ says Alisa ‘If it takes dying to get there, so be it.’”

Suspected Prostitutes Paraded Through City Streets in China: “For people who saw the event on television earlier this month, the scene was like a chilling blast from a past that is 30 years distant: social outcasts and supposed criminals — in this case 100 or so prostitutes and a few pimps — paraded in front of a jeering crowd, their names revealed, and then driven away to jail without trial,” reports The New York Times. But the public effect wasn’t what officials hoped for, and an “angry nationwide backlash” has ensued.

Healthiest Places for Women: What do Honolulu, Portland, Maine; Nassau-Suffolk counties in New York; Orange County, Calif.; and Burlington, Vt. have in common? They’re the healthiest cities for women, according to Self magazine. Honolulu came in at no. 1. (Having lived in Burlington, I’m up for a site-test challenge.)

December 14, 2006

As Israel and South Africa Go, So Goes the U.S. (Eventually)

E.J. Graff’s betting on the future of same-sex marriage in the United States — with wedding bells ringing from coast to coast within 20 years — and I’m betting she’s right. Graff’s stats on the global state of same-sex marriage are pretty heartwarming:

While you were enjoying November’s tilt away from the far right, there’s some more good news you may have missed: The world is steadily warming toward same-sex couples. Just two days ago, the U.K. celebrated the one-year anniversary of its civil partnership law, which legally recognizes same-sex couples. And in November, both Israel and South Africa (a very odd couple indeed) joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain in recognizing marriages between two women or two men. That brings to total number of nations that have done so to six, in as many years, with the Scandinavian countries now jockeying to see which will be next.

And back at home, by any number of measures, it’s clear a seismic shift is underway. “Americans, like others all over the world, are slowly but steadily getting comfortable with their LGBT sisters, uncles, neighbors and coworkers — and becoming more and more willing to have the state recognize their bonds,” writes Graff, ticking off states that either have recently or are on the brink of passing civil union-style laws. Graff’s research also covers gains in opinion polls and the fading support for anti-gay constitutional amendments and statutes, as demonstrated in November.

Of course, it may take some folks a bit longer than others to come around. Paul Cameron, chairman of the Family Research Institute, clearly has some work to do. Cameron not only says very mean things about the vice president’s daughter Mary Cheney, who is gay and pregnant with her first child — “Cheney is cruel to children,” blasts Cameron — but he apparently likes to make up facts to suit his bigotry. How very un-Christian-like!

In the fact-based world, the truth of the matter is that Cheney and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, face a rough road if they choose to raise their child in their home state of Virginia, which isn’t exactly Massachusetts when it comes to supporting the rights of same-sex parents, as the Advocate reminds us:

Unless they move to a handful of less restrictive states, Heather will never be able to have a legal relationship with her child. If something were to happen to Mary and Heather needed to advocate for their child in an emergency room, at school, in the courts, the state of Virginia would not recognize Heather as a parent to their child. If Mary some day chose to deny Heather access to their children in terms of custody or visitation, Heather would have no legal standing to challenge her actions. If Heather chose to walk away from her life with Mary and their family, Mary would have no recourse to pursue child support to help her care for and raise the children that together she and Heather brought into the world.

Now that’s cruel. But thinking back to E.J. Graff’s assessment, I have to believe Virginia will have more in common with progressive states in 20 years than with Paul Cameron’s dark, ugly world.

December 7, 2006

NYT Round-Up: From Gay Ordination and Mary Cheney’s Pregnancy to Way Too Heavy Bags

There are so many interesting stories in The New York Times today, a round-up is in order.

First up, an anti-abortion bill was rejected Wednesday when it failed to garner the necessary votes:

On a 250-to-162 vote, backers of the measure fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the bill, which would require medical personnel to inform women that a fetus could experience pain and to offer anesthesia for the fetus. The supermajority vote was required under special rules used to consider the bill.

Democrats accused Republicans, who will no longer be in the majority next year, of trying to score political points. The measure had no chance of becoming law in the last few days of this session.

“We are wasting time today on a bill that is laden with rhetoric but very little science,” said Representative Lois Capps, Democrat of California.

Gay ordination and same-sex commitment ceremonies are permissible according to the highest legal body of Conservative Judaism, though it will be up to individual synagogues to decide whether to accept or reject gay rabbis and commitment ceremonies.

The decision, which followed years of debate, was denounced by traditionalists in the movement as an indication that Conservative Judaism had abandoned its commitment to adhere to Jewish law, but celebrated by others as a long-awaited move toward full equality for gay people.

“We see this as a giant step forward,” said Sarah Freidson, a rabbinical student and co-chairwoman of Keshet, a student group at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York that has been pushing for change.

The Cheney’s newest grandchild will have two mommies, and while we think that’s just peachy, conservatives are less than thrilled by Mary Cheney’s pregnancy:

Family Pride, a gay rights group, noted that Ms. Cheney’s home state, Virginia, does not recognize same-sex civil unions or marriages.

“The news of Mary Cheney’s pregnancy exemplifies, once again, how the best interests of children are denied when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are treated unfairly and accorded different and unequal rights and responsibilities than other parents,” said the group’s executive director, Jennifer Chrisler.

Focus on the Family, a Christian group that has provided crucial political support to President Bush, released a statement that criticized child rearing by same-sex couples.

“Mary Cheney’s pregnancy raises the question of what’s best for children,” said Carrie Gordon Earll, the group’s director of issues analysis. “Just because it’s possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn’t mean it’s the best for the child.”

A new Canadian television series, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” looks at Muslim family life in North America post 9/11. The creator, Zarqa Nawaz, a 39-year-old Canadian Muslim of Pakistani origin and mother of four, tells the Times, “It rests on my shoulders to get the balance right between entertainment and representing the community in a reasonable way … You have to push the boundaries so you can grow and evolve as a community.”

Attitudes toward the hijab and women’s dress are central issues on the show:

When a Muslim girl flounces into her immigrant father’s presence with her navel showing, he recoils in horror, saying, “You look like a Protestant.”

She counters, “Dad, you mean a prostitute?”

He responds, “No, I meant a Protestant.”

Ms. Nawaz’s humor also emerges in the pool episode. Johnny, the male water aerobics instructor, is gay, and he pointedly says that the sight of the women’s hair would not be the least bit arousing.

“I always try to start these debates in my community like: Does gay count? Do you have to cover your hair in front of a gay man?” Ms. Nawaz said with a chuckle. (It is not the kind of question that arises in Muslim countries, where being openly gay is virtually out of the question; such behavior is punishable by a death sentence in some places.)

Fellow Muslims often dismiss her thoughts and questions as too outrageous, she admitted. “But now I have a whole series to express them.”

Finally, with “Ouch! My Bag Is Killing Me” listed as the second-most-popular e-mailed NYT story (as of early afternoon), I have to ask: must we injure our bodies with our bags?

December 1, 2006

Friday Double Dose: Katha Pollitt Pens List, Business of Beauty and 16 days of Activism

Let’s Hear it for New Hampshire: This week, New Hampshire became the first state in the country to announce plans to provide the newly approved vaccine against cervical cancer to all girls between the ages of 11 and 18. The vaccine will be made available through the state’s universal children’s vaccine program, which offers free immunizations. Australia’s stepping up, too.

She’s Making a List …: Katha Pollitt writes: “We all know the reason boys don’t read is that female teachers assign books about girls, and girls have cooties; and the reason half of all marriages end in divorce is that women have outrageous expectations, like that their husbands should talk to them; and the reason the Democrats lose elections is that they pander to female voters instead of being manly and tough. Oh, wait a minute, the Democrats won the last election. Women aren’t just evil, they’re powerful.” Read what else women are responsible for …

Business of Beauty: “[O]bstetricians, family practitioners and emergency room physicians are gravitating to the beauty business, lured by lucrative cosmetic treatments that require same-day payments because they are not covered by insurance and by a medical practice without bothersome midnight emergency calls,” reports The New York Times.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: From Amnesty International to Take Back the Tech, which encourages users to take action using information and communication technologies (cell phones, instant messengers, blogs, digital cameras, etc.), organizations around the world are mobilizing around the issue of violence against women. The 16 Days of Activism began Nov. 25 and runs through Dec. 10.

In South Africa, Bishop Israel Malele plans to simply give a sermon on Sunday in support of women. “I want our people to know that God never said women are inferior or that they should be abused. [...] I will confront the situation seriously on Sunday, because, deny it or not, some believers don’t see anything wrong with domestic violence,” Malele said.

Here’s more from the United Nations Population Fund, which is highlighting five under-reported stories relating to gender-based violence for 2006: the rise of bridenapping in Central Asia; breast-ironing, which is practiced in some West African countries and is just as bad as it sounds — it involves flattening the breasts of young girls to deter male attention; the epidemic of traumatic fistula in Africa; the ongoing femicide of women in Guatemala; and girls forced into marriage.

Plus: Be sure to read The New York Times front-page story on sexual abuse against girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. “In much of the continent, child advocates say, perpetrators are shielded by the traditionally low status of girls, a lingering view that sexual abuse should be dealt with privately, and justice systems that constitute obstacle courses for victims,” writes Shannon LaFraniere.

Some Good News: Young African women are reporting an increase in condom use. Voice of America reports on a recently published study in Lancet, the British medical journal: “The Lancet study surveyed the sexual behavior of 130,000 young single women from 18 African countries between 1993 and 2001. Abstinence and fidelity rates among this population aged 15-24 remained relatively unchanged, while the percentage of respondents who said their male partners used condoms more than tripled from 5.3 to 18.8 percent.”

November 2, 2006

Breast Cancer and OC: What’s the Link?

According to a new meta-study published in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, oral contraceptives may increase the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, particularly for women who have not had any children.

Well that’s not good news. But before you check the expiration of the condoms in the bottom drawer, there are other things about this study that you should take into account.

Ian at, a blog on reproductive health, raises some excellent questions about both the study’s conclusions (which some right-wing media outlets are only too happy to twist and repeat) and the authors behind it.

He first notes that the report’s lead author, Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, is affiliated with The Polycarp Research Institute. TPRI’s website includes this statement:

“TPRI will support research efforts that improve the spiritual condition of men and women, and will not promote methods or intentions that are inconsistent with the ethical and moral guidelines of the Catholic Church…”

Ian continues:

For the purposes of the Mayo article, Dr. Kahlenborn lists his email as, and his mailing address as “Department of Internal Medicine, PO Box 263, Hollidaysburg, PA.” Seem strange to you that a doctor associated with a “Department of Internal Medicine” would prefer his email at his nonprofit instead of at his hospital or medical school? Well, one reason here might be that there is no hospital in Hollidaysburg, PA. Another might be that that mailing address is actually the EXACT SAME address that TPRI lists on its website. From the looks of it, Dr. Kahlenborn just felt like being associated with a “Dept. of Internal Medicine,” so he made one up.

Another co-author, Dr. Francesmary Modugno, was a computer science specialist (that’s actually her PHD), who got a Master’s in Public Health in 1998 and has since fervently devoted her research to trying to establish a link between contraceptives and breast cancer.

The study’s other two authors apparently don’t wield political axes. But there’s a lot to consider here. OBOS is going to be talking to its experts about this study and may have more to say on the topic soon.

So how do we deal with this information in the short term? Let’s look at an editorial by Dr. James R. Cerhan published in the same issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. After asking the question, “How should clinicians counsel their patients at this time?” Cerhan delivers some noteworthy guidance:

First, OCs are extremely effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly. Second, although OCs appear to be carcinogenic, the relative risk is small, and the absolute risk (excess breast cancers due to OC exposure) is very small. For example, the Oxford pooled analysis estimates that the excess number of cases of breast cancer expected to be diagnosed up to 10 years after discontinuation of OC use among 10,000 European or North American women is 0.5 cases for OC use from age 16 to 19 years, 1.5 cases for OC use from age 20 to 24 years, and 4.7 cases for OC use from 25 to 29 years. These cases are also likely to be clinically localized.

Third, although a formal risk-benefit analysis is beyond the scope of this editorial, all risks and benefits of OC use must be considered, not just the risk of breast cancer. Other cancer risks may include cervical cancer and liver cancer in populations at low risk for hepatitis B viral infection.

Additionally, IARC has determined that there is convincing evidence that OCs decrease the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer, and there is accumulating evidence that they may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Other major noncancer risks of OC use include ischemic stroke, venous thromboembolism, and myocardial infarction, but because these are rare events in women of childbearing age, the attributable risks are very small.

Finally, there is a growing number of noncontraceptive health benefits associated with OCs, including relief from menstrual disorders; reduced risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, benign breast disease, uterine leiomyomas, and ovarian cysts; and improved bone mineral density.

September 15, 2006

State Support for Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Kudos to Michigan legislators. According to the Detroit News, a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan Senate by Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, would require all girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against cervical cancer.

“Recent studies have shown that cervical cancer may be one of the few cancers that is actually preventable,” Hammerstrom said. “This vaccine will serve as our most effective tool in the fight against cervical cancer.”

The Detroit News does its readers a disservice, however, with the headline: “Mich. may force girls to get vaccine” — since the proposed bill would simply add the cervical cancer vaccine to a list of other required vaccinations, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; Hepatitis B; and chickenpox. Moreover, parents could opt out for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

Some of the parents quoted aren’t thrilled about government intervening in personal medical decisions. And conservative religious groups have raised objections (previously mentioned here) about the appropriateness of the vaccine for pre-teens.

Which just goes to show why it’s important for Michigan to take this step. As the Detroit News notes:

The vaccine is recommended by the Federal Advisory Commission on Immunization Practices for girls who are 11 and 12, and as appropriate for other age groups.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 9,700 girls and women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States this year and that 3,700 will die from it. The vaccine, called Gardasil, protects against strains of the human papillomavirus that cause most cervical cancer cases. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

“The wonderful thing about this (vaccine) is that, in trials, it was 100 percent effective against HPV16 and HPV18, and those two account for 70 percent of the cases of cervical cancer,” Hammerstrom said.

Proving prevention isn’t partisan, all of Michigan’s 11 female state senators support the bill.

September 7, 2006

A Modest Proposal

In the annals of fashion, the hospital gown — if it is known for anything — is known for its unintentional immodesty. Many a comedic moment — in film, TV and real life — has occurred when a patient has turned around and we see her or his backside exposed.

So there is a little bit of unintentional irony behind this BBC story about the creation of a burqua-style gown that appeals to Muslim’s women’s sense of propriety. It covers the entire head, neck and body, with a narrow opening for the eyes.

The gowns will be available in Lancashire hospitals in November, but already they seem to be a hit. According to the BBC:

The gowns were trialled at Royal Preston Hospital and proved so successful that a number of other NHS Trusts have also expressed an interest in offering them.

Karen Jacob, linen services manager at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, came up with the idea.

She said: “I noticed a gap in the market and thought that it would be great if there was a gown that helped to preserve a patient’s modesty.”

September 1, 2006

Of Legends and Science: The Making of a Vaccine

Having read and watched so many news stories earlier this summer on the “debate” over whether a newly developed vaccine that prevents cervical cancer should be made available to pre-teen girls (a debate that exists mainly among right-wing conservatives who mistakenly think protection from sexually transmitted diseases encourages sexual promiscuity), I wasn’t necessarily looking for more coverage.

But this story in The New York Times Science section got my attention – and I’m glad it did. "How a Vaccine Search Ended in Triumph" is a fascinating look at the long, bumpy road that led to the vaccine in the first place. Donald G. McNeil writes:

Nuns and Jews, cow warts and rabbit horns.

The common link: they were all crucial elements in the search for the world’s newest vaccine.

There are fascinating stories behind every advance in medicine, be it hand washing or brain surgery. But the 70-year history behind the creation of a vaccine against human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, is more fraught than most with blind alleys, delicate moments, humor and triumph.

Read the rest here.

Plus: The vaccine is back in the news again this week — but this time it’s because it’s difficult to find and not yet covered by many insurance companies. One Chicago pediatrician told the AP that patients and parents “have been asking about this like no other vaccine that I can recall.” Now that sounds promising.