17 August 2011

Yes, Perry's Gardasil order matters. And it isn't good.

Rick Perry and the HPV debacle

Over at Hot Air, somebody calling himself Jazz Shaw takes on Rick Perry's Gardasil controversy. The link is above, if you want to read it, but I'll save you a little time and summarize: "if you think Perry made a mistake, you are a benighted rube who does not understand that Gardasil will miraculously cure cancer and your ignorance will condemn all young girls to a horrible, cancer-ridden death."

Where to begin?

What Jazz fails to grasp is that Gardasil's efficacy is irrelevant. Government mandates are a use of force against individuals, and that force is only properly exercised with extreme discretion.

"Wiping out smallpox," which the writer uses as an analogy is a great deal different. Communicable diseases like smallpox pose public health threats that are not behaviorally determined. There is a clear public benefit to mandating such vaccines. But cancer is not a communicable disease. Nor is Gardasil a "cancer vaccine." But even if it were, that would not be a reason to mandate it. The only argument in favor of mandating Gardasil - even accepting all the claims made on its behalf by Shaw - is that it is for your own good.

On this one, I side with John Stuart Mill, who said that the "only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant."

Beyond that, Perry's action was unilateral, circumventing the democratic process. A State Legislature of his own party passed legislation to reverse his action - and no, Perry did not accept this. He let it pass into law without his signature only after his staff had argued the legislature did not have the power to over-rule the Governor's executive orders. Got that? His staff argued (with his approval, one must assume,) that the Governor has the legitimate, unchecked authority to command his fellow citizens to - what? Anything? In this case it was to get a vaccine, but what is the logical end to this line of reasoning?

Again, any argument that begins with "Gardasil works," is entirely missing the point. Perry was wrong. I really don't think he understands that himself, even now, but at least he has sense enough to know that it is politically indefensible.

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