I Heart Art

17 09 2011

And when I say Art, I mean Arthur Caplan, the bioethicist from the University of Pennsylvania.  Why?  Buckle up, friends, it’s about to get political.

So you all may have heard that little thing that happened at the GOP debates over in Texas.  If not, the basic gist is that Michelle Bachmann is not a fan of Gov. Rick Perry’s policy to make it mandatory for all 12-year-old girls to receive the HPV vaccination.  She claimed publicly that after the debate, a woman came up to her crying because she chose to vaccinate her daughter, but after receiving the shot her daughter became “mentally retarded.”  Needless to say, Bachmann has put herself in front of a firing squad composed of every scientist, medical professional, public health worker and bioethicist from sea to shining sea.  Let’s be honest, she deserves it.  With recent outbreaks of mumps in Chicago and pertussis in Columbus, the public doesn’t need to be frightened away from vaccination any more than they already are.  Seriously, every one of those fatalities was 100% unnecessary and thinking about it is upsetting.

Don’t get me wrong, politicians say stupid things all the time.  ALL the time.  The problem with this is that public health has been working incredibly hard to make such huge strides with vaccination campaigns in general and is just recently overcoming the ridiculous rumors about the MMR causing autism.  Heck, people are even worrying less about the mercury thing — rightly so, since there’s way more mercury in your average tuna melt than a kid gets from all of his childhood vaccines combined.  At any rate, the big deal about Bachmann’s statement is that even though it’s an unsubstantiated claim, things like this have an uncanny way of snowballing with a resulting decrease in the number of kids who receive the HPV vaccine.

This is where Art Caplan comes in.  In an effort to rally publicity for the public health front, he’s put out a $10,000 reward to the charity of her choice if Bachmann can offer proof of mental retardation (or really, any lasting damage at all) caused by the HPV vaccine.  The full video is here:



Thank goodness somebody is taking a stand and fighting for public health by actually calling b.s. on the massive amount of twaddle that this politician was likely just throwing around to try to prove her point and make her opponent look bad.  In this country, politics is a necessary evil, but the very least public health advocates can do is try to keep politicians from doing too much harm to the people they are supposed to be looking out for.  The fact that other scientists have been matching Dr. Caplan’s challenge to the tune of over $100,000 shows me that really, all it took was that first person having the gall to stick his neck out for what matters most to him.

I can’t predict how this whole thing will turn out, but it makes me happy that the challenge was issued at all.




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