Some months ago, I wrote a blog post describing the takeover of an anti-vaccine Facebook page by a pro-vaccine activist. The takeover was a thing of beauty, and it revealed the weak constitution of so many anti-vaccine types. Well, someone found my blog post and posted it on an anti-vaccine Facebook group (a different one from the one that was taken over), and they claimed that I was making fun of parents of autistic or “vaccine damaged” children.
Mind you, I never mentioned children in the blog post.
It has been my experience that when people are hurt, they lash out in unreasonable ways. The anti-vaccine activist who believes that their child was hurt by a vaccine will lash out against vaccines in all forms, even when there is no evidence or evidence against it. They’ll lash out against the medical establishment that promotes vaccination. They’ll lash out against anyone who ever was associated with the creation, development, distribution and giving of vaccines.
Lashing out is the natural thing to do for a parent. I know it. If anyone even looks at my child in the wrong way, my hackles are raised… One day, we were in New York City for a conference. Although Baby Ren was only a few weeks old, we decided to make the trip anyway. As I walked downstairs at the hotel into a very crowded dining area, one of the other guests looked at her and sighed because they couldn’t get into the elevator with us. (It was that small.) I am not joking when I tell you that all sorts of signals were launched in my head.
When I was a child, mom and dad separated and went their different ways. One day, in the middle of an argument, dad told mom that he would sue for custody of me. In no uncertain terms, mom guaranteed dad that he would go missing and never be found if he dared take me from her. “Your mother will know my loss, and it will eat at her forever not knowing what really happened to you,” my mom said. Dad’s face was one of horror. He never threatened that again.
Likewise, if anything were to happen to my child, I guarantee to you that I will lay waste to the world. I’m not joking.
So what is this blog post all about?
A few days ago, Orac wrote a blog post about quack treatment for cancer at a clinic in Mexico not helping a little girl who eventually died. I may be biased because I like Orac — I look up to him both personally and professionally — but I didn’t see anything in that blog post mocking the parents of the little girl who died. If anything, he wrote this:
We can only imagine, and the parents are brave and determined. They go to incredible lengths to raise the vast sums of money required to get their children treated in Monterrey and are there with their children every step of the way, like Annabelle Potts’ father. It’s that inspiring parental love and devotion that Drs. Garcia and Siller take advantage of.
And he closes his blog post with this:
I end this post, as I end all such posts, by emphasizing that I am not criticizing the parents, who clearly love Annabelle Potts with an intensity that led them to go to incredible lengths to save her life. No child deserves this fate. No family deserves this fate, and I have nothing but sympathy for them. I am, however, calling out the quacks, Drs. Garcia and Siller, for taking advantage of that love by selling false hope to the tune of $30,000 (AUD) per treatment, not just to the Potts family but to dozens of families. I’m calling out the media for hammering all these stories into the same narrative of loving families who had been told to “take their child home and make memories” but refused to give up and instead found an “experimental” therapy, while either not mentioning or very much underplaying the utter lack of evidence for the therapy. Indeed, I just saw another example the other day using that very narrative for Lucy Moroney and Edie Molyneux, both of whom were treated in Monterrey for DIPG and died recently. (They reporter even described Dr. Garcia and Siller’s treatment as “revolutionary” and “pioneering”!) I’m calling out the crowdfunding platforms that make stories like that of Annabelle Potts so depressingly common these days. I’m calling out media outlets who then spin the story of the child’s inevitable death when it happens into a tale of triumph, rather than what it is, the story of a family victimized by unscrupulous doctors.
But it doesn’t matter because it appears that the mother of the little girl, or at least people claiming to be the mother, all up in arms about Orac’s blog post. They accuse him of taking advantage of the little girl’s death, of their loss and grief:
“So it appears David [Orac] has removed the other article as the comments weren’t going in his favour… Who is more unethical, the doctors who treated my daughter without transparency, or the ‘doctor’ who exploited my daughters death for his own personal gain?”
I don’t see how Orac is “gaining” anything from pointing out the quack treatment the little girl got. (Here is another blog post on another blog with the same information, and zero mocking of parents that I could see.) To be honest, I was a little incensed at the amount of vitriol being thrown at him for writing that… But then I realized that these are parents who just lost a little girl.
I realized that they’re probably in the process of laying waste to the world.
It doesn’t help that the cancer the little girl had is basically incurable. All the science and technology that the West (the girl was from Australia) has to offer doesn’t do much good against that cancer. Worse yet, according to reports, the parents were told to say goodbye to their little girl at the same time that the quack clinic told them that there was hope. As a parent, which would you take?
Me? I’d go the lengths of the Earth for her.
What about all the other people who are not the girl’s parents? They’ve seemed to have piled on, mostly without reading either blog post about the situation. What’s their goal? What’s their gain?
See, this is why it’s hard to have reasonable discussions on things that really do matter. The thing that matters here is that there is a clinic of quacks in Mexico that is taking money from hopeless victims of cancer and delivering nothing back… Well, not “nothing” if you want to say that false hopes is “something.” People who do that to children with cancer and their parents should be punished to the fullest extent of the law in order to deter others from trying the same shenanigans.
But no. We’re left here trying to defend a blogger scientists who is bringing this out to light from people who misread and misinterpret his writing, adding to it more than is already written. I know the feeling not only from interactions with antivaxxers but from interactions with jerks… And there is nothing sadder than to see the legacy of a lovely little girl be that of jerks commenting off the cuff.
I hope the cooler heads prevail.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.