The most dramatic moment of the GOP debate in Florida on September 12 revolved around Michele Bachmann’s attack regarding Rick Perry’s executive order mandating that all females in Texas get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prior to sixth grade. The vaccine protects women and teens against a sexually transmitted disease that is thought to cause cervical cancer. In last night’s GOP debate in Orlando, Florida, Bachmann and Perry were still at each other’s throats on the issue.
Bachmann accused Perry of cronyism and noted that the company that makes the vaccine, Merck & Co., employed Mike Toomey who was Perry’s former chief of staff, as a lobbyist in Texas. The drug company had also donated to Perry’s campaigns and Republican Governor Association where Perry chairs.
Governor Perry was believed to abuse his executive power, which is based on existing constitutional or statutory powers of the Governor and do not require any action by legislature to take effect. Yet the constitution and the statute of Texas are highly unlikely to delegate the governor such a power to issue an executive order forcing girls to get vaccinated.
Shortly after the issuance of the executive order, Texas legislature of Texas passed a bill overturning the Governor’s order. The bill’s author, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, criticized the governor’s decision “to use cancer victims as his backdrop for an issue that he has grossly misjudged.”
In the debate, Perry admitted the executive order was a mistake, insisting that he should not have got around the legislature. But he also defended his stance that girls should be vaccinated.
This executive order also went further than just abusing executive power. Perry says his executive order was motivated by his devotion to protect life. Devotion of protecting life seems a sound idea, but in what way and by who? In this case, Perry just simply presumed parents were unable to decide whether or not their daughter should take the vaccine. Further, in his view, the state government should make this critical decision for parents. It comes from the same totalitarian idea that what action an authority thinks good is good for all.
Although getting a certain group of people vaccinated is extremely well known and often accepted as obvious, it turns out upon close examination to be far from obvious, and to involve several assumption of doubtful validity. The argument supporting this proposition goes something as follows: scientific research proves the effectiveness and safety of a vaccine designed against a certain widespread disease. Therefore, the recommendation is a law to require all people to take the vaccine for the sake of health.
The proposition cannot be stronger even if the above argument stands firm. Back to Perry’s case, many wonder why the drug company Merck was the only one chosen to provide the HPV vaccine. Apparently this action tended to stifle market competition and build a hotbed for rent-seeking. Proponents argued that Merck was the only drug company licensed to provide the vaccine back in 2007 prior to the issuance of the executive order. Despite that fact, this piece of executive has dampened the incentive of other companies to enter the market so that Merck is comfortable to fend off competitions.
In politics, a benevolent intention usually brings undesirable consequence to a society. Perry’s devotion to protect life might not deserve much criticism, but his way to achieve it should be seen as a threat to individual freedom.