Pondering My Unexpected Activism

I am no activist. I am an advocate for public health issues, and I certainly like to speak my mind. Yet I have never in my life gone so far as to even write a personal letter about a cause, political, social or otherwise.

That’s why I am trying to figure out how the decision to hire known anti-immunization, anti-science celebrity Jenny McCarthy for the Bust-a-Move event in support of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation has spurred me into action.

Yesterday I was on Twitter, tweeting and retweeting the #dropjenny hashtag. Today, I’ve written a letter to Dr. Susan Dent, the medical advisor to the organizing committee of Bust-a-Move, a letter to the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen (shared in the next post) which may or may not be published… you get the idea. I’m frustrated.

Why is this particular decision getting under my skin?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Professionally:

  • I like science and the scientific method.
  • I used to do paid work promoting the most important public health measure in recent history, immunization for all Canadians. In that position, I was exposed daily to the underhanded tactics of the anti-vaccine movement, and I also interacted regularly with those who had lost loved ones or suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Personally:

  • My son has asthma; immunization for him and those around him help to keep him healthier.
  • My son’s school has diagnosed him with Asperger’s syndrome (though the diagnosis has since been questioned by several professionals who work with him and know him well; that’s another story). The pseudoscience that Ms. McCarthy spouts related to autism spectrum disorders is scary and harmful to vulnerable families and children.
  • Bust-A-Move is an event in which many friends and acquaintances take part. I have been and will be asked to support it. I have to say no to requests if an anti-science, anti-vaccine activist is involved.
So, for me – action required; action taken. And it continues. If you know someone on the leadership committee of Bust-a-Move or on the Board of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, tell them what you think (or what I think).
If you are interested in what I’m telling them, read on.

To the organizers of Bust-A-Move:

You are so much better than this. You raised $350,000 at your event for cancer research last year. You will likely raise more this year. Please admit that though Jenny McCarthy is pretty, her views on science, including immunization, do not align with those of the cancer care and research community.

The HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer. Your headliner is against it. Whether or not she speaks about her views directly at your event, you are implicitly endorsing them by hiring her.

It is not too late to admit your mistake. If you do, and you drop her as your celebrity (why you need a C-list celebrity is beyond me), I will support your event as much as I possibly can. In the meantime, I will turn down all sponsorship requests from my friends who are participating.

To the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation:

Please consider that the word “research” appears several times in your mission statement. I am certain you are referring to scientific research and not research at “the university of Google” from which Ms. McCarthy boasts she has a degree. Please show respect to all the researchers who work so diligently for your cause and reconsider your alignment with a pseudoscience peddler who actively campaigns against the most effective known preventive measure against cervical cancer, among other deadly diseases.

Thanks for listening. Please share if you care about science and you care about cancer research.

Now let me hear it. What do you think?

Comments

  1. Someone who lost 5 aunts to breast cancer says:

    So how many people die of Measles, Mumps and Rubella in Ottawa?

    And how many die of cancer in Ottawa alone?

    Exactly. That’s what we should focus on. Ending cancer.

    That body count website would say deaths from Cancer in Ottawa ALONE outweigh those they vaguely associated (and where is the scientific method there?) to Jenny’s stance.

    She is leading an exercise routine not lecturing at the event. If she was saying chemo or radiation was malarkey, I could get your point. Vaccines for MMR have nothing to do with cancer.

    And point me to where she says ALLLLLL science is quackery.

    Let’s focus on the good. $350,000 to help patients in Ottawa. Why don’t you write a blog about that?

    • Liisa says:

      I did not say it wasn’t a worthy cause. In fact, I said the opposite. I complimented the group on their worthy efforts and have supported them in the past.

      I did not say more people died of MMR than cancer.

      I do say that she advocates against immunization, something that protects all patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer.

      I do say that she advocates against the HPV vaccine which prevents cervical cancer.

      I also do say that she has spoken out against the scientific method.

      I also do say that the her views are embedded in everything she does and her headlining an event directed at young, smart women, sends the wrong message. There are so many better choices than this.

      I am sorry you lost 5 aunts to breast cancer. I too have lost family members to various cancers. Let’s help the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation raise money to fund research to prevent other deaths by using credible spokespeople and representatives.

    • Ross says:

      Sadly all issues are not simple black and white solutions. Some take a moment to understand.
      When someone undermines the basic science of the vaccination system they undermine the broad health of society at large. Then our loved-ones fighting cancer are harmed in many ways.

      – people in chemo or otherwise weakened get exposed to life-threatening infection
      – engagement with a reputable agency appears to endorse hazardous health practices
      – fanciful non-scientific ‘one-observation’ arguments left unchallenged allow quack cures to emerge
      – emerging vaccine-based cancer prevention/treatment is dismissed without logic
      – research is undermined and promising treatments are delayed

      Most of all – people who DO understand complexities beyond “oh she is just a pretty celeb who can help us” end up withdrawing support and leave us further at risk from the scourge of cancer.

      • Liisa says:

        Thanks for the comment Ross. That last line is the issue. We WANT to support #ottawacancer and are pointing out an issue with a simple error in judgement.

    • Jon K says:

      Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation having a different celebrity representing them in no way affects their ability to raise the $500.000 they state as their goal for this event.

      Promoting the name Jenny McCarthy in any way (-and OCFR has publicly identified her as a celebrity AUTHOR, among other things, representing OCFR-) sells Jenny McCarthy books, which support the anti-vaccination agenda.

      The anti-vaccination agenda erodes the immunity protections we all get from vaccination, it is their goal. They have directly affected vaccination rates in Ontario and all over North America, causing outbreaks of diseases that had been becoming unheard of. There was a Pertussis outbreak in Ontario in 2012 that the medical community acknowledged anti-vaccine efforts as a definite reason for the outbreak, due to eroding vaccination rates.

      That one outbreak alone sickened many, the related outbreak in Alberta killed a child. In just Ontario that outbreak cost or health systems far more than the money OCFR intends to try and rise with this event.

      Jenny McCarthy is not worth it, she costs more than money, she costs lives.

    • Brett Whitty says:

      Liisa, great blog. I too was also pulled into this issue by a pre-existing distaste for McCarthy as a pseudo-science peddler, and because I work in cancer research myself.

      I want to correct this anonymous poster with some facts, after first saying that we must remember that the event in question focuses on women’s awareness of breast health:

      - according to the WHO there were approximately 535,300 deaths due to measles worldwide in 2000; vaccination programs were able to reduce this by 74% to 139,300
      - breast cancer, for which there is no commercially available vaccine yet, killed approximately 458,503 people worldwide in 2008
      - cervical cancer, a disease which is nearly entirely preventable by the HPV vaccine, killed approximately 275,000 women worldwide in 2008; I’ll repeat myself here: 275,000 nearly entirely preventable deaths with vaccination.

      HPV has also been shown to be associated with cancers of the head and neck, and of the gastrointestinal system. It’s also quite possible that research underway right now will continue to reveal (as with H. pylori and stomach cancer) that a number of other cancers are associated with viral or bacterial infections; infections which can be prevented with vaccination.

      All the information I have provided you with I was able to access within 5 minutes of light internet searching, and using the innate human ability of reason. I’m not sure in Jenny McCarthy’s case exactly what leads her to be an evangelist for disinformation, but herself and her fellow anti-vaccine advocates have lead parents to avoid vaccinating their children or themselves. This puts all of our lives, and the lives of our children at risk. I’m sure we all know someone — a friend, co-worker, or (shudder) relative — who has made this “choice” to delay or avoid a certain vaccination after being exposed to media disinformation. There’s opinion, and there’s facts, and as much as some people would like to believe, you’re not entitled to your own facts — I think they call that schizophrenia.

  2. TBruce says:

    Liisa, thank you for your “unexpected” activism. I, too, am upset about this decision by the foundation. As a Canadian, I find it embarrassing as well. Here is a letter I have emailed to the Chair of the ORCF:

    Dear Ms. Eagen:

    I am a pathologist who provides diagnostic services in surgical and hematologic pathology to our local cancer centre. I have also participated in fund-raising events for the associated foundation. In light of this background, I am thoroughly disgusted by the recently announced choice of Jenny McCarthy as a headliner for the 2013 Bust a Move fundraiser. McCarthy is infamous for her public antivaccination stance. This is not merely a “personal viewpoint” unrelated to cancer care. McCarthy is a vocal activist against vaccination, and the most prominent promoter of the discredited “theory” that vaccination is a cause of autism. As you must be aware, treatment of cancer often severely compromises a patient’s immune system. He or she would be much more likely to contract a vaccine-preventable infection, especially since vaccination depends on an intact immune system to be effective. This is why maintenance of herd immunity is so important to avoid the spread of infectious diseases to those who are vulnerable. Jenny McCarthy has directly contributed to the breakdown of herd immunity by raising “fear, uncertainty and doubt” about vaccination in many people. Your choice of McCarthy in this role is, in my view, providing direct support to this dangerous trend, and is compromising the health of those whom you are otherwise working for. Please reconsider this choice for the sake of cancer patients and others who are vulnerable.

    I will also be writing to Dr. Dent (thank you for the info, I couldn’t find it myself).

    • Liisa says:

      Dr. McNeely – thank you for your comment. I may be naive but I am optimistic that support from people like you may contribute to a change of heart amongst the organizers of Bust a Move.

  3. TBruce says:

    Here’s my email to Dr. Dent:

    Dear Dr. Dent:

    I am a pathologist who provides diagnostic services in surgical pathology and hematopathology to our local cancer centre. I have also participated in fundraising events for the associated foundation. With this background, I am utterly perplexed by the choice of Jenny McCarthy as a headliner for the 2013 Bust a Move fundraiser. I expect that you have been made aware of McCarthy’s antivaccine activism, and her status as the most prominent promoter of the bogus theory that vaccination is a cause of autism. Her activism has been a major contributor to the increased “fear, uncertainty and doubt” that have been raised about vaccination, and decreased rates of vaccination uptake in our population. As an oncologist, you must be aware that any compromise to herd immunity increases the risk that immunosuppressed cancer patients will contract vaccine-preventable diseases. McCarthy’s activism also threatens uptake of Hepatitis B and HPV vaccines, both of which protect against later development of cancer.

    Your fundraising event is attracting a lot of bad press as a result of this foolish decision. I urge you to consider the health of those that you care for, as well as others vulnerable to infection by vaccine-preventable diseases, and cancel McCarthy’s appearance as soon as possible. It is the right thing to do.

    I’m not going to let up on this till something is done…

  4. TBruce says:

    Oops, that last sentence is not in my email!

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