As first reported by Martin Walker on Age of Autism three weeks ago (HERE) the row rages on in the Australian media between Meryl Dorey’s Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), an information and support group with its publication Living Wisdom (HERE), and government health officials. In this latest instalment Meryl explains the origins of the accusations at the heart of controversy levelled against herself and AVN by a grieving family (HERE).
A Grieving Family and Baseless Accusations (See the original article HERE.)
For some time now, both the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) and myself, Meryl Dorey, have stood accused of harassing Toni and David McCaffery, parents of three children; the youngest of whom, Dana, died from whooping cough in March of 2009.
Understanding the sensitivity of this issue and not wanting to increase the already unbearable pain these parents have gone through, I have stayed silent on this subject for as long as I could. At this point, however, being tried by the media, members of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) and the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) for this supposed harassment, it is time to set the record straight.
When Dana’s death was first announced, the finger of blame was pointed squarely at unvaccinated children in general – the AVN in particular. We were virtually being accused of being responsible for the death of this baby who was 5 months too young to have been protected by vaccines. This accusation began even before Dana’s funeral with an article in the Northern Star newspaper saying that Dana had been the “victim of ignorance”.
In addition, there were many questions that arose from the information the media were reporting about Dana’s death. These included the following:
1. Dana had presented to doctors several times before being diagnosed. Her mother said that her only symptoms were a runny nose and possible breathing problems.
2. She was admitted to hospital with a simple runny nose and only became seriously ill after her admission.
3. She was diagnosed with whooping cough within a day or two of when she was admitted to hospital when a whooping cough diagnosis generally takes 10-14 days to produce a positive result.
4. The media and her family reported that her treatments had included blood transfusions; that her heart was twice its normal size; and that she had a systemic infection – none of which are normal with whooping cough. (Please note: some of this information may not have emerged until the Channel 7 Sunday Night program)
Did I try to get Dana’s hospital records?
Toni and David McCaffery have stated in the media that I tried to obtain Dana’s records from the hospitals where she was treated. This is not true.
As a result of both myself and our organisation virtually being blamed for murdering this child by media outlets and government health officials, and because of the questions outlined above, I contacted Paul Corben at the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) to ask exactly how Dana was diagnosed.
Due to the uncertainty – in my mind at least – about how a whooping cough diagnosis could be made so quickly and also the correlation of Dana’s reported symptoms and treatments, I felt that these were important questions to clear up and it was my right to ask these questions – anyone could have.
The NCAHS told me that Dana’s death was determined by using a ‘quick test’. At that time, I was unfamiliar with this type of test but subsequent research has shown me that this is a test which gives false positives up to 100% of the time.
The only truly accurate test for whooping cough is a blood culture.[i],[ii] I asked the NCAHS if a blood culture had also been taken but I was told that this information could not be released. To the best of my recollection, the conversation ended there when the NCAHS official terminated the call.
I have been accused of harassing this grieving family by making this call. It is my assertion however that the official from the NCAHS has not only committed a serious breach of confidentiality by informing a third party that I had contacted him; he in fact, has harassed the McCafferys by calling a grieving family to tell them that I had asked for confirmation of Dana’s diagnosis. What possible reason could he have had for taking this action?
Have I ever contacted the McCafferys?
The only time I have ever met either Toni or David McCaffery was on the set of the Channel 7 Sunday Night program during a televised ‘debate’ on the vaccination issue. We passed and I believe we said hello. That is the only time I have ever seen them.
I have never phoned them, written them a letter by post, email or contacted them in any other way except for the once which I will describe below.
The only time I have ever had contact with the McCafferys in any way was in late 2009 when I posted a letter to the editor and a media release to their Facebook page. This was in response to complaints that the McCafferys had filed against me with the ABC regarding a radio show I had appeared on in October 2009.
The McCafferys claimed that I had provided incorrect information to the ABC, but the final outcome of the ABC’s investigation of this issue stated that the journalist had actually made a mistake when she was speaking – the error was not mine.
Despite providing information to the McCafferys in this regard, and also having my information peer-reviewed by Dr Gary Goldman, a reviewer for such publications as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, to this day, the McCafferys continue to claim that I provided incorrect or misleading information to the ABC.
I felt that it was within my rights to respectfully defend myself against these accusations and Toni McCaffery stated, under my post to her Facebook page that, “Meryl has responded, as she is very entitled to. I just ask that everyone when stating their opinions is respectful and is factual.”
This is the only time I have ever made contact with this family and I do not believe that this would or should constitute harassment in any sense of the word.
My husband, Ken Dorey
The first time I heard about the accusation that my husband Ken had harassed the McCaffery family was when Steve Cannane from Lateline, pointed a microphone at me and asked why my husband had gone to see David’s parents the day before Dana’s funeral.
Ken has known Carmel and Ken McCaffery for many years. They are both members of the Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group and Ken has been called to their home several times to help identify birds, to remove snakes that have gotten into their kitchen and just for a cup of tea and a chat.
Approximately 2-3 days before Dana’s death, I received a call from Carmel asking me to give Ken a message that she would like him to come over to identify a frog they had found.
The McCaffery’s home is between our farm and our house so 2-3 days later, Ken went by to help them identify the frog. He remembers clearly getting out of the ute and walking up to Carmel to ask her where the frog was.
At that point, she told him that her little granddaughter had just died of whooping cough.
Ken and I were both aware that a Lennox Head child had died from whooping cough – it was in all the media – but this was the first time that either of us knew who that child was.
Ken spent between 45 minutes and an hour listening to Carmel talk about what a devastating blow this was to all their family and how her husband, Ken, was incredibly broken-up about it. At the end of the conversation, Ken remembers Carmel saying to him that the doctors told Toni and David that it was most likely that Dana had caught whooping cough from an unvaccinated child in the hospital.
Ken remembers saying, “Carmel, you must know what Meryl does. It is not as simple as that. If at any time you would like to speak with her – and I know this won’t help your grieving…”
Ken remembers Carmel shaking her head – not in an angry way – but just shaking her head, so he left it there. This was the only time my name was mentioned but the accusation seems to be that Ken went there to tell Carmel and Ken that I wanted to speak with them. This is not true and our family would never intrude on a grieving parent or grandparent in that manner.
Ken and Carmel spoke for about 10 to 15 minutes more and then, someone else arrived on the McCaffery’s farm so Ken took that as his cue to leave. Until that point in time, nobody else was there – just Carmel and Ken McCaffery and my husband, Ken.
There have been accusations made that Ken knew that Dana was the child that died and that he went to the home to say that I wanted to speak with them. That it was the day before the funeral and the house was filled with grieving relatives preparing food and getting things ready. This is not true.
Neither Ken nor I were aware that Dana was the child involved; her name was not published in the papers until one or two days after Ken’s visit and her funeral was even later then that.
We understand how, at a time like this when preparations were being made for this terribly tragic funeral of a precious and beloved baby, things can be forgotten and events take on new meanings, but neither Ken nor I would ever be so callous as to visit a grieving family to discuss vaccination. Ken was there at Carmel’s request and left after listening to her talk about her family’s grief and offering his condolences.
This is not harassment.
The AVN has over 8,000 present and former members. Many of these families have children who have either been killed or injured by vaccines. In my 17 years of working with this organisation, I have cried with these families, shared their grief, tried to help them in any way I could including opening my home to them many times when they needed a place to stay.
Some of them have stayed here for months – some for weeks – some for only a day or two – but I believe that if you were to ask any of them if they believed that I or anyone else from the AVN would harass a family who had just lost a child, the answer would be a resounding NO!
I am the mother of a vaccine injured child myself so I have a special understanding of what it is to grieve for lost possibilities – but not – thank God – of what it is to lose a child. That is a grief I hope I never know – one no parent should ever have to face.
But whether a child dies from a disease or a vaccine, they deserve and do receive the same sympathy and respect from me and from all AVN members I have ever known.
I never have and never will harass or hurt a grieving parent and anyone who knows me – or knows anyone in my family – would say that without question.
I also know that the members of our committee would never have done such a thing.
Via the media, I have asked the McCafferys several times for the names of the people who have written to harass them and stated that if they are AVN members, they will be instantly ejected from our organisation.
To date, this information has not been provided to me. These accusations of harassment in the media, despite any evidence of what any fair person would actually call harassment, has now gotten to the point where even defending myself and the AVN will be considered by some to be harassment.
Despite that, I hope that this has answered some questions people may have had about my dealings with the McCaffery family and whether or not there was any harassment involved.
I welcome your questions and will be happy to answer any and all of them as fully and openly as I can.
[i] Curbing false positives and pseudo-epidemics, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 7, Issue 3, Page 186, March 2007
[ii] Faith in Quick Test leads to epidemic that wasn’t, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/22/health/22whoop.html?_r=1