Recently some friends whose son died of autism-related seizures— a tragedy for which the family was compensated through vaccine court after the standard contentious proceeding and desecration of their son’s memory in the industry press— shared a link to an upcoming conference at NYU: the Fifth Annual Innovations in Healthcare Symposium: Advances in Global Heath—A Symposium honoring Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin on World Polio Day and Dr. Salk’s Centenary.
Presenters will be, among others, Seth Mnookin, Drs. Paul Offit, Julie Gerberding, Peter Hotez and Arthur Caplan, PhD, and a special video presentation by Bill Gates. Also in attendance will be Francoise Gilot, widow of Jonas Salk and author of Life with Picasso which partly inspired the film Surviving Picasso, Robert Gallow of And the Band Played On fame (or infamy), and a filmmaker who produced a documentary on a polio-stricken Balanchine dancer. The first thing that came to mind was—just in time for Halloween!
But after browsing the program, I thought it was interesting that a vaccine conference would focus largely on polio in the middle of an Ebola epidemic, not to mention finding the subtitle a little ironic (“Advances in Global Health”… really? While the toll in Africa explodes?). On the other hand, the overall theme of the conference is clearly about how to bring the errant consumer flock back into the vaccination fold—something which could be considered relevant as the CDC pays cash to Baltimore’s poor and indigent in exchange for taking various trial Ebola vaccines. It’s not as if conference presenters will be lining up to take the untested shots, so the burning question may be how to make other people do it. No experimental vaccine kiosk listed in the program in any case. NYU’s Arthur Caplan is set to lead off with a presentation titled Session on Ethics: What Ought to be Done to Overcome the Anti-Vaccine Trend?
A huge component of the recurrence of measles, mumps, pertussis and other vaccine preventable diseases is vaccine refusal and vaccine hesitation. What can be done to combat this problem? What educational, legal and policy efforts are most likely to persuade individuals and parents to accept vaccinations as very safe and effective?
There’s no mention of Ebola in the blurb, although Caplan’s and other presentations are sure to make references to it. Also no mention of the fact that the CDC itself and bastions of radicalism like the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group declared the outbreaks of measles, mumps and pertussis to be occurring largely among fully vaccinated populations due to vaccine failure. But it’s not unreasonable to ponder over the question of public trust in vaccination as a deadly scourge heads our way—if only anyone was talking about the actually deadly scourge or about earning trust through the usual routes—through transparency, accountability, respect for civil rights, etc.
We’ll have to wait for published transcripts to get more specifics on what was or wasn’t discussed at the conference but I have my doubts that the symposium will include a solemn review of what public health and vaccine industry has genuinely been doing wrong all along. Instead any internal scrutiny would probably lean more towards “getting tougher” on vaccine dissenters, be sprinkled with self pitying rhapsodies over the persecution and suffering of vaccine industrialists, and standard Neo-Platonist rants on how the psychologically deficient masses have been led astray by excessive freedom of the press/web, rogue scientists and radical imams.
In general, bio industry war councils these days are focusing less on persuasion and more on coercion and trickery—whether through refusal to label GMOs and ag-gag legislation or through suppression of the media over stories like the CDC whistleblower, vaccine and drug coercion in Medicaid, campaigns to remove vaccine exemptions and discussions of fines and/or criminal charges of medical neglect/abuse against parents who don’t keep their kids up to date on vaccines. Going off Caplan’s past articles on the subject, I would imagine what he believes ought be done to increase vaccination uptake— if he’d stop euphemizing for a minute— is to dissolve the constitution…
Now I’m absolutely loathe to suggest that these vaccine dissenters should suffer asset forfeiture, imprisonment and having their children snatched by a ghoulish imp in a fake ice cream wagon that turns into a cage... but, as my friend and fellow vaccine industry defender Seth Mnookin might say, it’s possible we’ll see the discussion pivoting in that direction…
Caplan’s been a big “discussion pivoter” for a while. The name has been familiar since he pivoted on the side of pulling the plug on Terri Schiavo in 2005. I think it’s bleakly fascinating that Caplan, who heads NYU’s bioethics department, is both a loud proponent for mandating a not-riskless medical procedure and legal consequences for dissent as well as a loud proponent for ending the lives of ailing patients even when their families want them to live. In the proverbial sense of making bioethics into an oxymoron, it reminds me of Halliburton producing the faulty valve that led to the Gulf oil spill while invested in an oil cleanup company—a disaster capitalism twofer.
Bill Gates is another example of professional convergence: invested in pharmaceuticals and multiple toxic industries like Goldman Sachs/Saudi-backed fracking tech company Neos Geosolutions as well as “palliative care,” while arguing for cutting end of life care and reallocating the funds. It’s made me wonder when the “problem” of the autism epidemic may shift into the ultimate form of hiding the collateral. After all, regarding public suspicions of a link between autism and vaccines, it’s not just hearing about autism that’s the problem. It’s seeing it—everywhere. Maybe people would feel more confident about vaccination if they weren’t witnessing the fallout on every street and in every public school in America. Out of sight—as in dead—and out of mind?
It’s already happening.I recently heard from parents whose affected teen endures the usual health complications involved with severe autism—but who is by no means at death’s door— being aggressively pressured by a hospital panel to accept “comfort care”—a euphemism for pulling of feeding tubes, allowing death by treatable conditions, etc. They were mortified and spent two sleepless days guarding their child’s bedside and awaiting documentation for an urgent transfer to another surgical facility, worried the entire time that the hospital could try to get them declared incompetent and kill their child.
Chillingly, the confrontation overlapped exactly with the launch of the Brittany Maynard campaign for assisted suicide—one using professionally-produced videos and promotions funded by the nonprofit Compassion and Care—to legalize physician assisted suicide in the majority of states where this is still illegal.
I don’t remember who said that “bioethicists are to ethics what prostitutes are to sex” but it was someone in a position to know. In any case, Caplan, NYU’s head of bioethics, seems to be making himself the go-to guy on “right to die” these days, weighing in more recently on Maynard’s and other cases. It would not be surprising to discover that the campaign is backed by private hospice corporations that are gearing up to develop a market in assisted death.
Personally I think this is a dangerous trend and not out of any religious objections to suicide or a wish for people with agonizing terminal conditions to suffer. It’s not as if someone who commits suicide can be arrested and some physicians will continue to assist. My problem is institutionalizing such a thing in a country where the medical establishment has become increasingly coercive and deadly. The typical, tortured question hovering around the countries which have legalized assisted suicide is “When does right to die become duty to die?” and “Cui bono?” Hospice care stands to make money hand over fist from the practice and many hospitals and doctors are invested in privatized, corporate-run, for-profit “palliative death” services.
I don’t know how assisted suicide works in Switzerland, but Switzerland’s insurers aren’t allowed to make a profit and, let’s face it, the US is currently in a deregulated privatization freefall. We’re also dropping like flies: infant mortality in the US is the worst of all developed countries, longevity is reversing and Americans are now statistically more likely to die from something their doctors did to them and due to prescription drugs than from car accidents. If the latter weren’t bad enough, a rising percentage of car accidents are associated with prescription drugs. And some of these are lingering deaths.
Furthermore, there’s been a steady stream of media stories of parents losing custody of children for seeking a second medical opinion. The trend is happening increasingly in adult and elder care as well. Their loved ones are held hostage in a system that’s increasingly riddled with perverse incentives on a steady march towards full privatization of child protective services and it’s reported that fivefold more children die in state care than in the worst homes in the US. Try to imagine various state protective services as corporate ventures sharing board members with Monsanto, Pfizer, the fracking industry and, say, for-profit hospice—all with binding obligations to shareholders to produce growth. It’s not so farfetched in reality since there’s been talk of privatizing the CDC. It could even give rise to conjectures that the recent incompetence over Ebola could be part of some scheme to Blackwater the agency.
And finally there’s the unavoidable question of how many prospective “assisted suicide” cases will have been helped along—either towards death or a life of suffering— by injurious medical care to begin with. Statistically that would be many. So as much as I grasp the argument of those of sound mind who campaign for their own right to end suffering, I would say not here, not now, not under the circumstances and certainly not with these people pushing for the policies—people like Caplan.
I think the same way about instituting vaccine mandates. Immunization as a concept is one thing—it could be good, bad or indifferent. One day, an enterprising bio company could come up with safer preventive measures using methods never before imagined. But in current reality—considering Gardasil deaths, autism, vaccine failure, etc.—it appears to be bad to indifferent. In current reality you can’t sue. It’s become a trope to bring up what would happen to the auto industry if it gained the same legal indemnity currently enjoyed by the vaccine industry. What’re ya, one of those anti-transportation nuts? Just get in the damned car. Watch your head on that razor studded headrest…
In current reality, I’ve had it with the eupehemists for mandated medicine in all forms and the entranced do-gooders who fail to read between the lines of what campaigners are really saying—which is that industry has no intention of gaining back trust by making products safer, no intention of increasing accountability, no intention of ever caring for the collateral, which makes it all the more unpardonable that they’re now leaning towards use of force when persuasion and lies fail. But vaccination—or anything said to be for children’s safety—has become such a handy opening wedge to make incursions on other consumer and civil rights that we have to ask if the latter isn’t the main agenda. Legal precedents for forced vaccination in the past century have been used for everything from curtailing religious freedom to forced sterilization, so the concern is also not that farfetched. Otherwise the issue should be quite simple: if vaccines are safe and effective, people will want them. Only in the deregulatory freefalling privatization orgy that is the US is the audience at fault for walking out on a show that stinks—and threatened with legal consequences if they give a bad review.
Speaking of which, I also found it curious that a documentary filmmaker would be in attendance. It seems as if, historically, antidemocratic movements love to keep art and artists close at hand to lend themselves the patina of culture where promotion of rights and freedom are lacking. In Nancy Buirski, they’ve found themselves an accomplished cultural emissary. Wonder if she has a clue what she’s getting into. It would be interesting to find out if plans to develop a film stem from the conference. Since Buirski’s already done the polio documentary and there was a Brady Bunch episode covering measles, the next project should logically be on Ebola—one starring our favorite vaccine mandaters.
I think I could make a pretentious film on vaccines too. I figure it should be like the vaccination schedule in every way— it should start too soon, drag on too long, be slapped together, experimental, gratuitously violent, derivative (i.e., using a wood preservative as a bacteriostatic, etc.) and, of course, overhyped, so most of the budget would go towards marketing. Think scrambled verbatim rip-off of The Sopranos set in a Vegas dreamscape: jittery titles, creepy jump cuts, woman in black communing with a poorly taxidermied animal—the usual. Of course the TV version would have the bad words swapped out for awkward PG language—like “freak” and “crap” which, considering everything, fits the bill. If anyone doesn’t like it, we’ll say they’re anti-culchah.
Waiting for Ebola
Titles, sound of a ticking clock while dust-speckled frames of a wriggling Ebola virus appear superimposed on a black screen. Sound of sneeze followed by a long scream…
A spot of light slowly expands, illuminating a dank underground game parlor. Arthur Caplan materializes in a cloud of cigar smoke, dealing cards to an empty card table when Bill Gates appears…
Bill Gates (marching into the light, he spreads his arms to speak): I called you here, 'cause I got something to tell you. From now on, I'm gonna rely on you more and more, 'cause you're the only one I can fully trust. Sil and Paulie... they're old friends, but you're one thing they're not (he hides under the table).
Francoise Gilot (wanders dreamily out of the dark, cradling Billy the Bigmouth Bass): He loves to turn his friends into his slaves…
Seth Mnookin (Appearing suddenly at the table, holding his head in his hands): I have forsaken what is right for what is easy, allowing what I know is evil in my house; allowing my children— oh, my god, my sweet children— to be a part of it because I wanted things for them. Wanted money in my hands-- money to buy anything I ever wanted. I'm so ashamed.
Arthur Caplan (dealing): Ablution. The desire to cleanse himself of the deed. Have you ever read Crime and Punishment? It's about guilt and redemption.
Julie Gerberding (emerging from the darkness, dressed in a pinstripe suit, spinning a gold pocket watch): If the place is bugged that stuff's not admissible. It's that, uh, that, that doctor/patient privilege…
Paul Offit (appearing in a spot of light): Hey look, I’m a doctor.
Arthur Caplan (deals): A doctor, a madam, wise guy and a cop. That's what I call a vice superfecta (they build house of cards).
Seth Mnookin (taking a handful of peanuts from a bowl): This country's light years behind the rest of the world. Most civilized countries have legalized prostitution.
Julie Gerberding (to Mnookin): Do you have any qualms about how you actually make a living?
Seth Mnookin (mournfully):Yeah, I find I have to be the sad clown. Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.
Paul Offit: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! (All laugh uproariously—then abruptly stop. A clock ticks, Poul Thorsen dressed as Waldo runs across the scene and disappears…).
Bill Gates (poking his head from beneath the table) Do we have a clear plan on what we want Apple to do to undermine Sun?
Peter Hotez (hops into the light like a bunny to where Gates is hiding. A copy of the DSM materializes in his hands): A borderline personality disorder? Let me read to you from the D.S.M. IV, okay? Definitions of the condition? "A pattern of unstable relationships. Affective instability." It means intense anxiety, a joylessness. These people's internal phobias are the only things that exist to them. The real world, real people are peripheral. These people have no love or compassion. Borderline personalities are very good at splitting behavior, creating bitterness and conflict between others in their circle (sits and plays Solitaire).
Bill Gates: (poking his head out from under the table cloth again)Anti-vaccine advocates—they kill children.
Paul Offit: (pointing a thumb at Gates) He calls the shots, so we do it.
Bill Gates: (Scrambles out from under the table holding an oversized syringe of Ebola vaccine) Now that’s a shot.
Seth Mnookin (wielding a wireless mic, does a fidgety Dean Martin impersonation to the tune of Summer Wind):The pathogens…keep blowing in… from across the sea…
Paul Offit (enthusiastically): It's supposed to be close to a side-effect- free anti- impotence drug!
Seth Mnookin (crooning): It lingered there… on Frontier Air…and on my seat… (does a spin and a few kicks to cymbal clashes. Abruptly slumps in a chair, morose).
Paul Offit (handling the syringe): I bet these motherfreakers were hard to come by.
Arthur Caplan: Yeah, they fell off a truck (all laugh uproariously—then abruptly stop. A clock ticks as Poul Thorsen races across the scene dressed as the ghost of Elvis…).
Paul Offit: I've had great success treating this type of condition. I do need to warn you, there are certain side effects. These are temporary, but there's a chance of weight gain, accompanied by a swelling of the facial features. Sort of a moon face (Julie Gerberding holds her face with a shriek and takes out a compact mirror).
Billy the Bigmouth Bass: As a doctor, I think what you're doing is immoral.
Paul Offit: It’s my considered medical opinion.
Arthur Caplan: They will be able to identify every single casualty.
Paul Offit: I give my patients everything I've got. And when something like this happens, I'm devastated.
Julie Gerberding (puffing out her cheeks in the mirror): Every culture has had to bear the pain in the making of what I think we can all agree is a startling economic miracle… (begins to wobble and lies down on the ground).
Arthur Caplan: “Do not resuscitate.” It’s to save the family a lot of anguish and decisions at a difficult time, when there is no quality of life. (Blows a smoke ring) These freakin’ ditsoon activists, they’re killing me.
Paul Offit (standing and shouting): You don't listen to the president? We're gonna mop the floor with the whole freaking world. The whole world's gonna be under our control.
Arthur Caplan: Make them follow orders by instilling fear.
Paul Offit: Artie, this isn’t makin’ some slob take his hat off.
Seth Mnookin: The only ones who get hurt the ones who try to be freaking jerkoffs.
Paul Offit: This stuff is sweeping Europe. It's gonna be bigger than Stoli.
Arthur Caplan: It wouldn't pass your high Wharton School of Business standards.
Paul Offit: We cured polio.
Arthur Caplan: Freaking Paulie. The hustle never ends (with a puff of cigar smoke, blows down card house).
Paul Offit: You read the papers? The government's using electronic surveillance and various legal strategies…
Arthur Caplan: Little pitchers have big ears.
Julie Gerberding (still prostrate, holds up photo of William Thompson): Rat freak took out a lot of people, a lot of people from our outfit.
Billy the Bigmouth Bass: You tried to dispose of the evidence.
Bill Gates: Our response should suit the message. Through the mouth means the guy was a rat.
Arthur Caplan: You're lookin' at a mandatory 35 to life in prison, and guys started to rat on each other just so they could avoid prosecution (sound of a ticking clock, Poul Thorsen runs back across the scene, this time dressed as Bigfoot).
Paul Offit (mournfully rebuilding card house): Life in prison. No chance of parole.
Bill Gates (stalking around the table trying to swing a baseball bat): All due respect, you got no fracking idea what it's like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fracking thing. It's too much to deal with almost. And in the end you're completely alone with it all (ducks under the table).
Julie Gerberding (still lying down, lifts a corner of the table cloth. To Gates): I know what you're going through must be painful.
Paul Offit: This isn't painful. It's empty... dead.
Seth Mnookin: It's like taking a crap.
Julie Gerberding: Okay. I actually like to think about it as childbirth.
Seth Mnookin: Trust me. It's like taking a crap.
Arthur Caplan: They pay this chiacchierone by the word?
Seth Mnookin: I'm telling you, this disinformation crap is an effective technique, it's a freaking ace!
Arthur Caplan: Government witness turned best-selling author.
Julie Gerberding (still on floor): I think it's drug trafficking.
Seth Mnookin: I'm talkin' about freaking sheep! Science!
Arthur Caplan: Who are you, minister of propaganda?
Bill Gates (from beneath the table): That junkie freak was my biggest earner. During the football season he moved more cards than ten guys put together.
Francoise Gilot (cuddling her fish and wandering around the table): But there are so many cards. And some of them are under the table too. And some of them pop up like Marie-Therese. And now who knows who else is going to appear?
Robert Gallo (appears suddenly): All right, explain one thing to me. Ten times ten times ten, my name is in every book ever written on the human retrovirus. Why would you get in bed with the French instead of me?
Paul Offit: Last time I take a freaking limo in Paris.
Arthur Caplan: Like you were ever in Paris, Paulie.
Peter Hotez (staring at cards, coughing nervously): There is no mafia.
Fade to black. Roll credits.