Women’s health issues advance with controversy

By Amanda Finnegan
September 15, 2006

While the summer is starting to cool off as we turn to fall, debates in women’s health are just starting to heat up. The Food and Drug Administration made two major approvals this summer in women’s health care; Gardasil, the HPV vaccine and Plan B, “the morning-after pill.”

The human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in women, along with the leading cause in cervical cancer. The vaccine is the first ever designed to prevent cancer, which is one of the biggest medical advances in our lifetime. Merck claims the vaccine can cut global deaths by cervical cancer by two-thirds. So what’s the catch? Gardasil currently costs $360 and not everyone is on board with supplying the vaccine.

Some conservative officials believe that vaccinating girls too young may make young women more likely to have sex. Although the American College Health Association recommended that college campuses supply the HPV vaccine, Cabrini does not yet have the vaccine on campus. Insurance companies are still debating coverage, whether the reason being cost or morality issues.

The key concept in the development of the vaccine is can be summed up in two words: preventing cancer. Facilities or institutions not offering the women a vaccine that may save their lives is a moral issue in itself. Cervical cancer caused by HPV kills 290,000 women world wide every year. If even one of those women were saved, Merck has succeeded. The vaccine’s purpose is to save lives, not promote sex.

An even more controversial issue is the FDA approval for over-the-counter sales of Plan B, an alternative method of birth control. Plan B is used to prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Unlike the HPV vaccine, Plan B’s sole purpose to serve as a contraceptive and does not protect against any sexually transmitted diseases.

Plan B will be available to those who are over 18, without a prescription, at pharmacies and health clinics. Minors, however, will still need a prescription.

Due to standards at Cabrini, health services said Plan B will never be available on campus.

The intention of Plan B is for women to have a second opportunity to prevent unwanted pregnancy and has the potential to decrease the abortion rate in our nation.

Although Plan B will be more accessible, it is not meant to be used as “plan A.” The fear is the availability of Plan B will increase instances of unprotected sex, therefore creating abuse of the pill. Despite claims by Barr Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Plan B, which said the pill is completely safe, long term use is being questioned. If a woman takes the pill several times, what is the effect on her fertility? What are the emotional effects? Ultimately, the concern is how Plan B will affect a woman’s body, if the pill is abused.

We are fortunate enough to live in a period where scientific advancements are changing our world everyday. Whether individuals choose to agree with them or not is another question. Some advances will forever better our lives and those who are in it. Other advancements may fail miserably. Times change and so does medicine. Accepting those changes is what will make all the difference.

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Amanda Finnegan

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