Adventures in Ethics and Science

As Revere notes, the trial of the Tripoli six is scheduled to resume on October 31. This means the time for serious action is now.

As Mike Dunford points out,

If you want to do something more than just get mad, if you want to try to change things, you will need to do more than read blog articles and post comments. You need to write people. You need to call people. You need to send faxes and emails.

Honest to goodness, a letter on paper, in an envelope, addressed and stamped to get to its destination, is going to signal that this really matters to you in a way that emails will not — because you took the trouble to do something that was labor-intensive. Writing an original letter (rather than using a form letter) will further increase the chances that your plea will be taken seriously.

So I’m asking you to do something hard. But I’m also going to provide you some help in doing it.

Here’s Mike’s general advice on how to compose your letter:

When you write a letter to an elected official, be clear, be concise, and be respectful. If at all possible, keep the letter to no more than one page in length. Make sure that you identify the reason for the letter in the first paragraph, and make sure that you clearly state what you expect the elected official to do. In this case, I would suggest telling them that you would like to see our government publicly inform the Libyans that this conduct is unacceptable, and that there will be consequences if they continue down this path.

Here is the text of the letter I am sending to representatives of my government:

Dear [name of representative here],

I am writing to express my deep concern about the trial against the “Tripoli six” — Christiana Malinova Valcheva, Valia Georgieva Cherveniashka, Nasia Stoitcheva Nenova, Valentina Manolova Siropulo, Snezhana Ivanova Dimitrova and Ashraf Ahmad Jum’a. These six medics are accused of intentionally infecting more than 400 children with HIV in 1998 while working the al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi.

Obviously, for anyone to infect children with HIV, whether intentionally of negligently, would be horrific. But there is much reason to think that these six medical professionals are being tried — and may be executed — on the basis of bad evidence.

An evaluation of the scientific evidence during the original trial of the medics in 2004, conducted by AIDS researchers Luc Montagnier (of the Pasteur Institute in Paris) and Vittorio Colizzi (of Tor Vergata University in Rome), concluded on the basis of a genetic analysis of viruses from the infected children that the children were infected long before the medics came to Libya. The Libyan court chose to throw out this evidence.

The new trial of the Tripoli six is scheduled to resume on October 31. If Libya is to be a part of the global community, the Libyan court hearing this matter must show its commitment to finding the facts in this case. The court must order a fully independent, international scientific assessment of how the children were contaminated — and once this assessment has been performed, all sides must take it seriously.

The world feels horror at the plight of the infected children, but the world will also feel horror if our best scientific evidence is set aside and innocent medics are made scapegoats. I ask you to do what you can to put pressure on the Libyan government to take appropriate action in this case. The world is watching.

Sincerely,

Janet D. Stemwedel

Feel free to use my letter as a starting point in composing your own — one that conveys your concerns here. If you can, maybe have a letter-writing party with like-minded individuals!

Who should you be writing to (or otherwise contacting)? Here are Mike’s suggestions:

1: Libya. This is probably going to be the least effective, but it’s still worth a try – and you never know, it might just work. The Libyans have invested a huge amount of effort in trying to regain international respect, so there’s at least a small chance that they might be responsive.

Mail:
I’d suggest mailing letters to a Libyan embassy. For Americans, the best choice would be the Libyan UN Mission.
Mission of Libya to the United Nations
309 – 315 East 48th Street,
New York, NY 10017

Phone:
The phone number for the UN mission is: (212) 752-5775

Email: The Center for Nursing Advocacy has an online form and form letter. The email address that they are using is: libya@un.int I have not used that address myself, and cannot vouch for whether or not it works.

2: Your own Congresscritters.
Get in touch with your own representatives. Feel free to remind them that you vote in their districts (if this is true.) Contact them even if their political views are totally opposed to your own, and particularly if they also sit on a key committee.

As long as you know your zip code, this website will quickly provide you with the contact information for your representatives.

3: Key congressional committees.
Contact the majority and minority leaders of the House Committee on International Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

Senate:
Committee Chair: Richard Lugar
Ranking Member: Joseph Biden

Mailing Address:
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225

Majority Phone: (202) 224-4651
Minority Phone: (202) 224-3953

House:
Chair: Henry Hyde
Ranking Member: Tom Lantos

Mailing Address:
House Committee on International Relations
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Other contacts:
Phone: (202) 225-5021
Fax: (202) 225-2035
E-Mail: HIRC@mail.house.gov

4: Executive Branch Officials.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Main Switchboard:
202-647-4000

President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461
comments@whitehouse.gov

The same letter, with few modifications, can be sent to all of the politicians on this list. Go for it. Postage isn’t that expensive, and letters can make a difference. If people don’t tell their representatives that they should care about something, it will be hard to blame them for doing nothing about it.

5: Scientific Organizations.
The Nature editorial that I quoted makes a compelling case for scientists to get involved in this. Tell other scientific organizations – particularly ones that you might be a member of – that this is an issue worth taking a stand on.

The largest organization of scientists in the US is the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. If you subscribe to the journal Science, you’re an AAAS member. Tell them to join the editors of Nature in taking a stand.

Alan I. Leshner
AAAS Chief Executive Officer
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202-326-6400

I’m sure many of you are members of other organizations. Look for the contact information for those groups, whatever they are, and get in touch with them.

If you are angry about what’s being done to these poor medics, channel your anger into something productive, and start writing letters. The more of us who do, the better the chances are of accomplishing something.

[UPDATE: 21 Sept 1120 EST]
Another of the Sciencebloggers pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is an MD, and that he is sensative to threats against medical providers. Given his position in the majority, he’s in a position to help.

Office of Senator Bill Frist
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3344

I’ve been given this email address for one of his staffers: Ken_Scroggs@frist.senate.gov

Please let the people who can make a difference for the Tripoli six know that this matters to you!

Comments

  1. #1 revere
    October 14, 2006

    Janet: Great job. I’ll link from Effect Measure.

  2. #2 Bill Hooker
    October 15, 2006

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