Yesterday, I took note of a meeting of advocates and lawyers with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR), which makes him a very powerful Congressman. The group that met with him included Del Bigtree, the producer of Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propagandafest of a “documentary” VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe; Levi Quackenboss, the pseudonymous blogger best known recently for getting into a fight over vaccine evidence with a 12-year-old and losing badly, leading her to try to dox the child and look even worse as a result; anti-GMO activist Tami Canal, the founder of March Against Monsanto; and, apparently, some lawyers, no doubt lawyers interested in destroying the National Vaccine Injury Compensation System and the Vaccine Court, so that they can seek big paydays for “vaccine injury” from vaccine manufacturers. After the meeting, both Bigtree and Quackenboss were crowing all over their Facebook page and blog, respectively, about how they thought that Chaffetz would investigate the CDC based on the overheated conspiracy theory of the “CDC whistleblower,” explained in more detail in my last post. Given that Chaffetz hails from Utah, the epicenter of the supplement industry in the US, and is in the pocket of the supplement industry to the point that he was co-chair of the Dietary Supplement Caucus (yes, it exists), I thought I had reason to be concerned that he might be susceptible to the blandishments of antivaccine cranks, coupled with a lovely conspiracy theory that would allow him to investigate the CDC, given the history of the OGR with respect to antivaccine pseudoscience and other quackery. After all, it was just 2013 when antivaxers were lobbying Chaffetz’s predecessor, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on the same issues, sans CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory. And don’t get me started on the long history of quacks using this committee to harass the FDA over its “persecution” of cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski when Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) was chair back in the 1990s.
As if it weren’t bad enough that the OGR chair is giving what sounds like a congenial, sympathetic hearing to antivaccine activists, I have to wonder if Mr. Chaffetz knows just how despicable the people to whom he gave a hearing and on whose behalf he might be launching a Congressional investigation are. I really do. Andrew Wakefield, of course, needs little explanation. He’s the single most famous antivaccine activist alive today, or at least he’d be my first pick for that dubious “honor.” A now utterly disgraced and discredited physician and researcher, Wakefield rose to infamy when he published a small case series in 1998 that purported to show an association between the MMR vaccine and bowel problems in autistic children. It was the paper that launched a thousand antivaccine quacks and gave birth to the MMR scare that continues to this day, in the process causing MMR uptake in the UK to plummet and measles, previously controlled, to come roaring back. Ultimately, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license for research misconduct and saw his 1998 paper retracted. Now, he’s known for appearing on cruises for conspiracy theorists and making antivaccine propaganda films like VAXXED. Unfortunately, he’s also responsible, along with biochemical engineer turned antivaccine activist and incompetent epidemiologist, Brian Hooker, birthed the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory.
These are the people with whom Del Bigtree has associated himself: A disgraced physician/scientist who no longer has a license to practice because of his research misconduct, an anti-GMO crank, and a pseudonymous antivaccine blogger so insecure about her position that she attacked a 12-year-old boy who challenged it, not to mention a bevy of lawyers seeking a big payday after tearing down the NVICP. That’s bad enough, but here’s whom else Bigtree associates with, the parents of a child named Ezekiel Stephan, who died of bacterial meningitis because they were too busy treating him with herbs and maple syrup to take him to a real doctor in time to save his life. As a result, Stephan’s parents were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life and are due to be sentenced this week. Not surprisingly, these parents, David and Collet Stephan, are antivaccine as well, and have thus become martyrs in the eyes of the antivaccine movement.
So, after a showing of VAXXED in Calgary, Del Bigtree fawned all over them after the Q&A and posted it to Facebook:
Yes, as Reasonable Hank put it, the VAXXED documentary team is rallying behind actual child killers because they are antivaccine and can be portrayed as martyrs to the cause of “vaccine freedom” and “health freedom.” So, not only are the people Mr. Chaffetz met with rallying behind parents who were convicted of letting their child die through medical neglect, but, as Michael Platt put it, the Stephans show no remorse whatsoever. Before I go on, let me make this clear. I have no doubt that David and Collet Stephan suffered horribly when Ezekiel died. I have no doubt that they still mourn him, four years later. It is, however, four years later. Life goes on, and the grief becomes less intense. What I mean by “remorse” is not that they weren’t devastated by their loss. What I mean is that they have no remorse for their role in Ezekiel’s death. They view themselves, rather than Ezekiel, as the victim. It’s now all about them, rather than their child, and they view themselves as blameless.
In fact, they try very hard to blame the ambulance drivers who tried to save Ezekiel’s life:
“This isn’t the way the media has played it out to be. They’ve tried to distance us from the average person by trying to say that he was too stiff, stiff as a board, to get into his car seat, he had to be fed somehow through an eyedropper, he was being treated for meningitis with maple syrup and fruits and berries — that’s not the case at all,” says the negligent father, in an infuriating video now plastered on YouTube.
“We were treating our child with different homeopathic remedies, different herbal remedies like tens of thousands of people do. Nothing out of the ordinary and he wasn’t severely ill. Then everything just came to a crash on an evening, he ended up in an ambulance that didn’t have the right equipment and he subsequently ended up brain-dead.”
This is, to put it kindly, utter and complete bullshit. First of all, homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, the most ridiculous of quackeries. If the Stephans were treating a seriously ill patient with homeopathy, then they were committing medical neglect, plain and simple. Also, the testimony of the coroner was very clear that Ezekiel had been in dire straights for quite some time before his death and that Ezekiel was dead before EMS intervened. Watching the video, I felt bile rising in the back of my throat and a burning rage start to consume me that took considerable effort to bring under control. As Platt notes:
All the dad lacks is a halo, to set off his mantle of martyrdom.
Given another chance, and it seems all the Stephans would do differently for a sick child that had stopped breathing is not call the ambulance, because it wasn’t equipped with the right equipment to provide oxygen to an 18-month-old.
It’s a halo that Del Bigtree tries his best to buff to the greatest shine possible. The only way Bigtree could have his lips more firmly attached to David Stephan’s posterior would be to insert his head in Stephan’s rectum, so much so that he enthusiastically lets himself be used to rally support for the Stephans in their sentencing hearing today and tomorrow:
On Thursday, the couple is back before a Lethbridge judge for a two-day sentencing hearing, and in the video, the Stephans ask that supporters flock to the court dressed in blue jeans and white shorts to bolster their cause.
“Ultimately it comes down to whether we have the right to vaccinate or not vaccinate without being held criminally liable,” says the dad.
“Or whether or not we have to rush our children to the doctor every time they even just get the sniffles, in fear that something may just randomly happen and then we’re held liable.”
So let me bet this straight. The Stephans didn’t vaccinate their child, who developed bacterial meningitis, which quite possibly could have started with an HiB infection, which is a vaccine-preventable disease. Of course, that’s not the worst of it. Even if they had vaccinated their child, they still neglected him medically. After all, they treated their child with homeopathy, maple syrup, and various herbal concoctions even though he was slowly getting worse and worse. Finally, their child Ezekiel stopped breathing, and only that was enough to get them to call an ambulance. When the paramedics couldn’t revive Ezekiel, they tried to blame them. Now they’re milking their notoriety for publicity, and Del Bigtree is helping them do it. As Platt sarcastically notes, regardless of whether they get probation or five years in prison, “it seems David and Collet Stephan have learned but one thing from their loss — and that’s how to use the publicity to their best advantage.”
One wonders if Chaffetz knew what he was getting into when he agreed to meet with Bigtree and his crew. I realize that Bigtree didn’t make his video of the Stephans until a couple of days after his meeting with Chaffetz, but there are plenty of other things that date back months that a competent Congressional staff should have identified. For instance, one wonders if Chaffetz was aware of how Hooker, Wakefield, and Bigtree have been courting of the Nation of Islam to spread the antivaccine message. One wonders how well that would go over among Chaffetz’s constituents.
In the end, Chaffetz is letting himself be used by Bigtree and antivaccinationists. I suspect he realizes that but see some sort of political advantage to be had. Perhaps he can use the incident to portray himself as fighting for “health freedom” and against overweening government. Who knows? I just hope he figures out what a mistake he’s making before he causes too much mischief. Unfortunately, I doubt that he will.
ADDENDUM: Surprise, surprise! Collet Stephan is pulling a fast one at the Stephans’ sentencing hearing by claiming that the autopsy report was falsified.