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Fighting the Medi-scams

I have a web site at www.ratbags.com, and one of the sections there, The Millenium Project (the spelling is intentional), lists web sites related to things I don't like. About half of the listing consists of medical frauds and vaccination deniers. Over the last few months, I have commented there about some deaths with a connection to "alternative medicine". The responses I have received to my comments have been appalling, even to someone like me that sees the dark side of quackery all the time. These responses, however, confirm something that I have long thought about the supporters of quackery and what it would take to change their minds. I will describe the cases and responses and then discuss the implications at the end. I probably need to insert a warning here. I am going to talk about the deaths of children and some of what I have to say may be upsetting to some people. It upsets me too, which is why I want to stop these things happening.

The first death is of a child whose name I do not know. On 1 November, 2000, the ABC carried a story that started "The Hunter Public Health Unit, in New South Wales, has confirmed a fatal case of whooping cough in a baby. It is the first confirmed death of a baby in the epidemic that has ravaged the state since mid-2000". This news was announced on an Internet mailing list owned by the Australian Vaccination Network, an organisation which is opposed to vaccination. Someone posted a response to the news in a message which said: "Wow, thanks so much for posting this! It's an invaluable article for our anti-vaccinations cause. I will print this out and take it to the doctors when I have to go in a few months". Nobody on the list suggested that the poster's comments may have been tasteless or extreme. These people were actually glad that a child had died as it aided their propaganda campaign. When I commented on it, I was called a liar and there is still a web site out there run by the AVN's Internet Communications Officer which mentions me by name and says that I misrepresented the writer's words. Its advice to anti-vaccinators is "You will be accused of distorting the facts at the same time as the vaccine proponents are distorting what you say or believe".

The second death was of a ten-week old baby. The autopsy on this baby showed bleeding around the brain, in the eyes and in the spinal column. There was bruising to the sides of the brain and the external areas of the head and physical damage around one eye. The child had four healing broken ribs, that is, ribs which had been broken prior to the assault which finally killed him. The father admitted holding the baby by his feet and slapping him. The father, Alan Yurko, is currently serving a life sentence in a Florida prison for the murder of his son. You may wonder what this has to do with alternative medicine. You would, in fact (and I hope), be amazed to find that Alan Yurko has been declared a Chiropractic Hero by the International Chiropractors Association's Pediatric Council, who are collecting money for an appeal. The reason that the chiropractors have become involved is that the story is being promoted that the damage to the child was caused by vaccination. Yurko has also been offered as a consultant by a leading anti-vaccinationist to other parents charged with shaking their children to death. Attributing shaken baby syndrome to vaccines is the latest ploy in the campaign to frighten parents into avoiding vaccination for their children. (Other ongoing disinformation campaigns include suggestions that vaccination causes SIDS and autism.) An informal contest was held to find a good slogan to use as a soundbite for television and radio, and the President of the Australian Vaccination Network came up with "Shaken Maybe Syndrome".

In a recent effort by the anti-vaccinationists to assist Alan Yurko, people were asked to write to an official in the Florida corrections system to complain about a proposed change to prisoners' email allowances. Writers were told not to mention Yurko's name in case of retaliation against him, but to pretend they were writing for some other friend in prison. In other words, the writers were asked to lie about their real intentions. Following Edmund Burke's maxim that "all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing", I wrote to the official concerned and warned her of the deceit. I copied my email to the person who had suggested "Shaken Maybe Syndrome" and to the person who has suggested using Yurko as a consultant for other people charged with beating their children to death. One wrote back accusing me of a "heinous and spiteful act" and suggested that I "have placed Alan Yurko in danger". The other just told me "May you burn". One of them wrote to the murderer's wife, who wrote to me and said that "is not I or anyone else, that can stop you from eradicating yourself". I suppose telling me to commit suicide is a change from death threats. In later messages to various mailing lists, I have been called a "sicko" for commenting on the Yurko case, but nobody has seemed concerned at using a dead baby in a public relations campaign.

That the anti-vaccination liars should be dismissive of children's deaths is not surprising, as most sane people would recognise the entire anti-vaccination campaign as an attack on children's health and well-being. In a sense, the death of children is their raison d'etre and the inevitable result if they get their way. In case you think that these are isolated incidents or don't apply in Australia, remember that two Australians, Viera Scheibner and Archie Kalokerinos, are considered the leading experts (and expert witnesses) in the vaccine-SBS area. Dr Kalokerinos has even managed to convince a judge that the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome are the same as scurvy and that scurvy can reach fatal levels within three days of vaccination. These facts are unknown to most medical people in the world, but then these doctors could all be part of the great conspiracy that Dr Kalokerinos claims is being run by the World Health Organisation and Save the Children Fund to use vaccination as a tool of genocide.

The next death was that of Liam Williams-Holloway who died in a Mexican cancer quackery clinic. He was the subject of an Australian "60 Minutes" show which revealed the idiocy and venality of the people who were "treating" him. Liam had been removed from a conventional treatment program for his neuroblastoma and was kept hidden. Fruitless attempts had been made to obtain legal guardianship of Liam and to make him a ward of the state in an attempt to have him treated, but his parents were able to get him out of New Zealand to Mexico. When he died, an immediate funeral and cremation were held so that no autopsy was possible to determine whether the cancer really was shrinking as claimed by the cancer clinic. Liam's parents sold their house and borrowed from friends to pay for his Tijuana treatment. When I mentioned his death in an alternative medicine forum, the first response was "Until your choice to cash in on this family's grief, Mr B, I had respected you. Now I feel contempt not only for you, but for all of your ilk, who would feed in this way on people's pain. Shame on you". Subsequent reaction was in the same vein, suggesting that people had the right to have any sort of treatment they wanted and who was I to say what worked and what didn't? No criticism was offered by the supporters of "alternative medicine" of the people who "treated" Liam. (In a similar case earlier in the year, a Canadian boy named Tyrell Dueck was also taken to Tijuana against the wishes of the courts. The clinic was a bit luckier that time as they managed to get him home to Canada before he died. The parents were sent a bill for $12,000 after his death for "services" while he was in Tijuana. On the day that I wrote this, someone was told "You have reached an all time low" for mentioning Tyrell in an alternative medicine discussion group and suggesting that there may be some cause to criticise the clinic.)

The next case is Candace Newmaker who was killed by people practising what they called "rebirthing". I have a transcript of the last two hours of Candace's life on my web site and it is harrowing enough to read it, but I know someone who sat through the trial of the "therapists" and had to watch not only a videotape of the girl's last hours but also saw video evidence of other abuses and tortures. Candace had been adopted and her new mother thought that they were not getting along as well as they should. She was subjected to something called Attachment Therapy and went through a "rebirthing" process where she was wrapped tightly in a blanket and was supposed to force her way out in some bizarre sort of re-enactment of vaginal birth. She suffocated while lying in her own vomit and excrement, with the "therapists" abusing her and calling her names. When I mentioned her death publicly, I was told that it wasn't "rebirthing" that killed her but something else, that it wasn't alternative medicine that was being practised, that I am an idiot, that I am unconcerned about her death (?), that her death is insignificant when compared to the "100,000 needless deaths" in hospitals, that I can't do basic arithmetic, that my opinions are bought and paid for, that mentioning the tragedy is just part of a pattern of attack on alternative medicine. What I wasn't told is that the particular practice that killed this girl is beyond the limits to which "alternative medicine" should be allowed to go.

The last case I will mention is of an adult. I was referred to a web site called "The Mercury Connection" to show me the horrors of amalgam fillings. It certainly horrified me, but not for the reasons that the person recommending it to me thought. What horrified me was the report, in his own words, of a man with an incurable disease who had the last years of his life stolen from him by quacks and liars. Roy Smith had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also called "Lou Gehrig's Disease"), a quite rare complaint. He was deceived into thinking that this may have been caused by the mercury in the fillings in his teeth, so he had all his fillings removed and replaced. If the story had stopped there it would have been bad enough, but the vultures hanging around him wanted more. He was encouraged to spend his time (and his money, of course) on the useless quackeries of chelation and hyperbaric oxygen.

You would expect that these treatments would have some demonstrated benefit after some time, but fifteen months after Roy had had his fillings replaced, he was told that the amount of mercury in his body had increased! (He was eventually told that it had reached a level five times as high as when the treatment started.) At the same time he was being told that he needed more and more treatments in a compression chamber, although there was no evidence that his condition was improving. You might ask yourself why someone would tell him that he needed to sit in a compression chamber several times per day when it didn't seem to be doing him any good. The reason was that he and his family still had money left. You may wonder how the level of mercury in his body could increase alarmingly when the supposed source had been removed more than a year before. It was because the people selling him a "treatment" were taking the measurements. Think about it for a moment - if the reported levels never dropped, he would know that he was being scammed, but if they had actually dropped to nothing he might have wanted to stop paying. So they lied to him.

Roy Smith died on July 13, 1998. His death was a personal tragedy for his family and, like all needless deaths, diminishes us all. It would have been a tragedy for the chelationists and oxygen "therapists" as well, because a large part of their income would have gone. Unlike Donna, Ryan and Lori who lost a husband and father, however, the quacks would have just had to do a bit of advertising to get another Roy. The final chapter in this tragedy was when Roy realised that he had been conned and, with a system that let him type by moving his head and clicking a switch with his toe, he wrote the final words on his web site three months before he died: "PS. As of 4/16/1998, after taking 500mg. of DMSA daily for nearly three months, my mercury levels show even higher than last time".

The response I got when I wrote about Roy Smith was astounding. I was accused of damaging people by trying to stop them having their fillings out, I was "trashing" Roy and his memory, I was trying to gain benefit from his death. Someone even wrote to his widow about me. What nobody would address is that even if the ALS had been caused by the fillings in his teeth (it wasn't), what I was objecting to was not so much the removal of his fillings but the process of continuous lying that went on after that about how the level of mercury in his body went up and down. It could only go down unless the charlatans treating him were feeding him mercury, they were incompetent beyond belief, or they were lying to him. Again, no possible criticism of a form of "alternative medicine" was permissible or could even be contemplated.

I promised to talk about the implications of the responses I have received to comments about deaths. The common thread through these is that the opponents of medicine (I refuse to use the term "conventional medicine") accept no limits. Nothing is beyond the pale for them. No "alternative" to medicine goes too far, just as none appears too stupid for someone to believe. But just let a real doctor harm someone or fail to cure them...


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