Quoth antivaccinationist Hilary Butler: Non-vaccinators are the “new Jews”

I’ve never been able to figure it out. Antivaccine zealots seem to have an intense love of Nazi analogies and comparing those supporting science-based medicine to Nazis. While from a strictly nasty point of view, I can sort of understand the utility of such analogies to demonize one’s opponents. After all, to political extremists of nearly all stripes (excluding actual real neo-Nazis, of course) Adolf Hitler is the gift that keeps on giving. Antiwar activists liked to try to tar George W. Bush with the Hitler appellation, and, now that Barack Obama is in power, right wing Tea Party types have an even greater tendency to try to paint (or to slime) Obama with the very same brush. So, from that perspective, I get it. Hitler and the Nazis are an excellent all-purpose tool to demonize your opponents. Just compare them to Hitler! It’s easy! It’s also incredibly stupid in most cases. If you don’t believe me, just check out the last couple of times that I’ve seen antivaccinationists comparing their opponents to the Nazis or likening vaccine programs to the Holocaust.

Yes, those two examples were really dumb, but I think I just found something even dumber. It’s an article by Hilary Butler. (You remember Hilary Butler, don’t you? She has a proclivity for vile analogies.) This time around, Ms. Butler pulls out all the stops, asking Are non vaccinators the “new Jews”? Before we get to the “substance” of her article (such as it is), I’ll take ignorant historical analogies for $1,000, Alex:

Most adults tread very lightly when criticising the medical profession, particularly when willing parents put their children forward to be used as instruments of the next emotional blackmail campaign. What these same adults don’t realise, is that once the clampers are screwed down, and their right to also say “no” has gone, then they too will be lined up, and jabbed without being able to say “no” for themselves either.

And when a person is too scared to say “no”, to anything, then choice, … and informed consent has disappeared. And if people stand around and do nothing about it, then they will join Germany in the Hall of Historical Shame. For that reason, this letter has been sent to Fairfax Media.

Ms. Butler, of course, is just warming up. What’s gotten her Hitler thing on are two articles published by the Sydney Morning Herald. The interesting thing about the articles (to me, at least) is that one of the two (an editorial entitled Immunisation levels a cause for concern – and timely debate) is actually more deferential to the “freedom” of parents not to vaccinate than much of what I can imagine being published in the U.S. In Australia, it informs us, unvaccinated children are not banned from schools except during outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which means that, unlike the US, there appears to be no school vaccine mandate. What got Ms. Butler all worked up is the effort on the part of the NSW Labor opposition to introduce a bill to “allow childcare centres and kindergartens the option of banning unvaccinated children.” In the U.S., such a bill would be completely uncontroversial. In fact, nearly all U.S. states not only allow daycare centers to ban unvaccinated children but many require it. For instance, the state of Michigan requires the following vaccines: DTaP, hepatitis B, Hib, MMR, PCV, and varicella. It does, however, allow philosophical and religious exemptions. So the hilarious thing is that NSW appears to be proposing to do something that is very reasonable and very defensible. It’s only a change from what is done now, which appears to be less restrictive than my country.

Of course, what Ms. Butler objects to is that the articles are sympathetic to minimizing argues that the measure doesn’t go far enough because it only provides the option of banning unvaccinated children, pointing out, again quite sensibly, that because daycare centers depend on fees there is a financial incentive not to refuse non-vaccinating parents. To Ms. Butler, this is the equivalent of…well, I’ll let her tell you. I’ll start with her attack on the second article (Vaccine fears could lead to ‘epidemic’) because it’s the one that brings out the most hyperbole-filled analogies and provokes Ms. Butler to let her Hitler flag fly high:

Your second article is tantamount to fear mongering worthy of the Gestapo. If you had talked to the STATISTICIANS in Australia’s Ministry of Health, you would know that vaccination rates in Australia in 2010 which were published in March 2013, were the highest they have ever been at 92.3% though I find it highly ironic that while 99% of Australian children are on the national immunisation register, your experts are THREE YEARS BEHIND in the compilation and publication of their data, so I would challenge the figure of 92%. The real rate could well be 94 – 95%.

I do so love me some all caps. It’s a sign of only the finest crankery. It’s also a misunderstanding of what was actually said. The article actually does mention that immunization rates are 92%. That’s irrelevant to the point of the article, which is that, while overall vaccination rates are high, there are areas with very low uptake. For instance, it’s pointed out that some areas of New South Wales have “lower vaccination rates that Rwanda.” The point, of course, is that such pockets of low vaccine uptake are ripe for outbreaks because herd immunity is degraded. but, hey, what’s a little fact or two between antivaccine cranks, particularly when they can really get the Hitler juices flowing:

There is a cynical hypocrisy surrounding the medical professions’ silence regarding your published inaccuracies on the Australian vaccination rates. Perhaps you need to consider that, like the Germans before the second world war, Fairfax media COULD BE being used by the medical profession, to mindlessly yell “Heil Hitler” – as in the media campaign orchestrated by Dr Michael Wooldridge in 1997.

The first article, as I pointed out, was actually highly deferential in tone to parental rights but ultimately concluded that the proposal to allow childcare centers and kindergartens to ban unvaccinated children didn’t go far enough. In fact, Ms. Butler goes beyond just attacking the Herald, generalizing government statements supporting measures to increase vaccine uptake and expressing alarm at low vaccine uptake and likening them to…well, I have to let Ms. Butler tell it again. I just can’t capture the combination of spittle-flecked ranting and argumentum ad Nazium with a description:

Are you innocently painting non-vaccinating parents the “new Jews” as a result of the medical profession’s complicit silence?


Will the next edict from the medical profession be that you publish a demand, whereby parents must sew a yellow star onto unvaccinated children, as well? You remember where the yellow star led, don’t you? Isn’t it interesting that the current mob attack on the unvaccinated is very like the sentiment which lead to the anti-Jew pogroms? It’s ironic that “history” runs the risk of repeating itself….

Yes, in Ms. Butler’s fevered imagination, the Australian health authorities are Nazis who just can’t wait to force unvaccinated children to wear the yellow star that Hitler forced Jews to wear. Of course, Ms. Butler knows as well as the editors to whom she writes and anyone who reads her letter know what ultimately happened to the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. The yellow star was a step along the way from marginalization to separation from society to elimination in the Holocaust. It was a direct step on the road to the death camps and gas chambers. Does Ms. Butler really think that the Australian government is planning on sending unvaccinated children to the gas chambers and then to the ovens, the way that Hitler sent the Jews to death camps? Probably not. Playing the Hitler card is just a suitably shocking tactic to use to demonize the government health authorities who want to increase vaccination rates in areas where they are low.

If we’re going to play the Nazi card, though, it’s highly tempting of me to do so with the “autism biomed” movement. After all, what were the Nazis known for besides the Holocaust? Horrific unethical human experimentation (including with children), for one thing. Who in the autism biomed movement is known for unethical human experimentation with children? Why Mark and David Geier, two former “icons” of the autism biomed movement who’ve fallen on tough times. They first came to my attention several years ago for their rather “original” idea that chemical castration with Lupron would be a good treatment for autism, to help chelation therapy work better. They’re also known for running unethical clinical trials approved and overseen by an IRB stacked with their cronies. Indeed, the entire autism biomed movement is little more than unethical experimentation on children using quackery.

See how easy it is to play the Hitler card? I can do it too if I want to. Of course, I only did it this time to make a point, not because I really believe it (unlike, apparently Ms. Butler). I’m also in a benevolent mood because I’m very happy to have learned that Mark Geier has lost his medical license in the last state in which he had one, Hawaii. That’s right. He’s now lost his medical license in all 12 states in which he had a license. Not that that has stopped the quackfest known as Autism One from featuring Mark and David Geier as speakers this Saturday, with a talk that looks like a barely warmed over rehash of their same ol’ same ol’. I wonder if they’ll mention Dr. Geier’s most recent loss of medical license. Now he and Andy Wakefield have something to talk about. In fact, Mark Geier has gone Andy Wakefield 11 better in that he’s had 12 medical licenses stripped away, and Wakefield’s only been struck off once.

In the end, it never ceases to amaze me how little self-awareness antivaccine cranks like Ms. Butler are. It’s easy to shout “Nazi!” at your enemies. It’s hard, apparently, to see that it’s pure nonsens to do so. Still, Ms. Butler has a lot in common with our homegrown antivaccinationists. She’d be right at home at Autism One.