In a statement last November, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced his opposition to the execution of one of the world's most infamous mass murderers. The killer is variola, the virus responsible for smallpox, which took more than 300 million lives in the 20th century.
After the World Health Organization eradicated smallpox in 1977, all known cultures were consolidated in two repositories, one at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and one at the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Russia. Since eradication, health officials and scientists have been debating whether to destroy these stocks and, if so, when. Some argue that the variola could be the basis for novel vaccines or a smallpox cure should anyone release any secret stashes of the virus. Others think that there are no good scientific or public health reasons to believe that workable drugs could be created from the existing stocks.
This article was originally published with the title Throw the Switch?.