Chincoteague, Va. teenager Abraham Cherrix and his parents made national headlines last summer when, after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkins' disease, the youth decided he wished to try alternative medicinal therapies instead. In response, Virginia Child Protective Services accused Cherrix's parents of neglect and a custody battle ensued.
Fortunately, a judge ruled that Cherrix' parents were not negligent and the teen was allowed to visit a board certified oncologist of his choice, but the ramifications of the case are still being felt. If Abraham's Law is passed, it will allow parents to refuse certain medical treatments for their children without fear of accusations of neglect or any other reprisal. The only conditions are that the decision must be made jointly with the child; the child must be mature enough to make such a decision; other treatment options must be considered; and parents must believe the decision is in the best interests of the child. The Senate version of the bill makes the additional requirement that the child be at least 16 years old.
"It is extremely important that the health freedoms of American families be protected by laws like Abraham's Law," said consumer health advocate Mike Adams, author of Natural Health Solutions and the Conspiracy to Keep You From Knowing About Them. "Without these protections, parents will continue to be criminalized for advocating alternative or natural health treatments, and children will suffer enormous harm at the hands of dangerous conventional medical treatments."
While many health freedom advocates see either version of the bill as a victory, they are less enthused that the same legislative session also passed bills (HB 2035/SB 1230) that would require young girls to receive vaccinations against HPV before they could be enrolled in school. Such a law has been considered and shot down in Scotland and Michigan, and around 18 U.S. states are currently debating similar legislation. In early February, Texas Gov. Rick Perry bypassed state legislature and announced an executive order that requires girls 12 and older to receive the Gardasil vaccination against HPV, although an affidavit does allow parents to opt their kids out of the shot if they have religious or philosophical objections. Texas parents click here to request an opt-out form online.
According to a study published in the Journal for Clinical Investigation, HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases worldwide, so when a Phase III study by Merck proclaimed the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing cervical pre-cancers and non-invasive cervical cancers associated with HPV types 16 and 18 -- both of which Gardasil was specifically designed to prevent -- many took the drug to be the first true vaccine against cancer. The study notes that Gardasil does not prevent all HPV types associated with cervical cancer.
The National Vaccine Information Center's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) showed 82 reported adverse reactions linked to Merck's vaccine as of press time, ranging from seizures to passing out, but none were fatal. However, as Gardasil has only been approved since June 2006, the long-term effects of the vaccine and the longevity of its protection have yet to be observed.
"The long-term advantages of the vaccine -- and it seems likely that there will be some -- and the detrimental aspects we just do not know yet," said Jim Fussell, campaign manager for the Health Freedom Foundation and American Association for Health Freedom (www.HealthFreedom.net). "We are rushing into this."
Opponents of the mandatory vaccinations have said they fear it might be seen as a go-ahead for underage sex, since it must be administered at such a young age -- to be most effective, Gardasil must be injected before a girl's first sexual experience -- and both supporters and opponents of the vaccine's mandatory status are also questioning why boys are not also included in the orders and proposed laws since they can carry and transmit HPV. Perhaps the most prevalent objection to the shot, though, is that it completely circumvents parents' rights to make medical decisions for their children.
Under the House version of the bill, Virginia parents have the same option as Texas parents to file a form to exclude their daughters from the shot, however the Senate version of the bill has no such provision, and many parents say they should not have to go through any red tape just because they do not want their children to receive the shot. Experts respond that making the vaccines a requirement is necessary, because rates of polio, rubella, mumps and other diseases did not drop significantly until vaccinations were made mandatory for school enrolment.
What it all boils down to, say some critics, is money. Although Perry has required that uninsured girls between the ages of 9 and 18 be able to receive the shot at no cost, an Associated Press article about the Texas law pointed out that Merck had been lobbying for mandatory shots through an organization connected to Perry and had contributed funds to his reelection campaign. Since a three-shot regimen of Gardasil costs about $360, the company will make billions of dollars if Gardasil is made mandatory nationwide. Merck has set aside an undisclosed amount specifically to lobby for such legislation in the states considering mandatory HPV vaccinations, reports the Washington Post.
"Even if they do not make the vaccine mandatory, Merck will probably make about $1 million on this vaccine within the next year or two," Fussell said. "If they make it mandatory, in many places that number could be much greater, and Merck is spending a lot of money promoting this."
The Virginia Public Access Project seems to confirm that, as it shows Merck made campaign contributions in the amount of $10,000 to House Del. Phillip Hamilton, R-Newport News and $4,100 to Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, both of whom sponsored HB 2314 and SB 905 respectively.
Fussell suggests Virginia parents who oppose the mandatory vaccine -- or would like to support the version with an opt-out clause -- contact their legislators at http://legis.state.va.us and click on House of Delegates or Virginia Senate. Alternately, they can call the House at (804) 698-1500 and the Senate at (804) 698-7410.