The deadly profits of misogynist medicine

This is a guest post from Lucinda Marshall at the Feminist Peace Network.

The latest issue of Ms. Magazine has an unfortunate article (which unfortunately is not online) about the HPV vaccine. The gist of it is that the vaccine is good for women and anyone who opposes it (and they only acknowledge opposition that is based on fears that it will promote promiscuity) is anti-woman.

Nowhere is there any mention that there are concerns about both the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine that have not yet been fully addressed or that Merck, the company that manufactures the vaccine, has provided very significant funding to many of the legislators that are pushing the vaccine.

But that actually isn't what this post is about. This last week there was more confirmation that hormone replacement therapy is probably responsible for a significant percentage of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer deaths during several decades.

According to the Washington Post, "An awful lot of breast cancer was caused by doctors' prescriptions," said Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "That's a very serious and sobering thought."

No kidding. And in the meantime, not only did the pharmaceutical companies make a financial killing selling HRT, but they also profited handsomely from selling "The Cure" in the form of chemotherapy drugs to treat the cancer they caused in the first place.

Not coincidentally, as I have written about previously, these companies also donate heavily to organizations such as the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, both of which wield enormous influence on cancer research and policy.

But it isn't just HRT prescriptions that are the culprit. For some time now there has been concern about the estrogen-mimicking pesticides that regularly make their way to our rivers and streams, and the estrogen from birth control pills that is literally pissed into our sewage and other toxins and pharmaceuticals that jeopardize our water supply. We also know that human male sperm counts are dropping and that there have been incidences of male fish and frogs taking on female attributes. Anyone want to connect the obvious dots here?

So the point is this: we need to look beyond HRT at these other sources of unnatural estrogenic and estrogen mimickers and see if they too are adding to the cancer load. But going back to the first paragraph of this rant (no, that wasn't just a random potshot at Ms.), the thing that disturbs me about their take on HPV is that it seems to me that in the spirit of Mr. Norton's comments about HRT, it is truly un-feminist foolishness to just assume that this vaccine is a good thing when there are still substantial unanswered questions.

It isn't just the HRT -- it's Vioxx and DES, it's the high rates of Caesarean sections in this country -- all of the history of women's health care that ought to make us ask a lot of questions, it's the part where we are asked to spend huge amounts of money to wipe out a disease that is mostly under control already in this country, while not examining whether this drug will be made available to the women who might (if it is safe and effective) benefit from it in other countries where the incidence of cervical cancer is much higher. Our willingness to spend billions of dollars on this vaccine needs to be looked at in the context of women's overall health needs such as the hundreds of thousands of women who die throughout the world every year from the complications of pregnancy and the millions of women in this country who lack basic health insurance.

That is the analysis I expect from a feminist magazine. It is time to say no to the snake oil salesmen, their charm is far too deadly.

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