Fellow finalist for a 2006 Weblog Award for Best Medical/Health Issues Blog Flea sure stepped into it the other day. A reader e-mailed him a discussion found on the dreaded Mothering.com discussion boards, you know, the same boards that horrified me with the sheer level of antivaccination wingnuttery and HIV/AIDS denialism routinely supported by the discussants there.
After expressing sympathy for a mother’s loss of a child, he then goes on to show why it was not, as the mother claimed in the discussion boards, the vaccine that caused her child’s death:
What follows is a very sad story of a progressive seizure disorder involving neurological compromise ending in death by status epilepticus.
What makes the story even sadder for Flea is that mom believes with perfect faith that vaccines killed her daughter. She refers to the child she lost as “Marissa (victim of childhood vaccines)”. It’s bad enough to lose a child. It’s worse to remember her with a parenthetical moniker like this one.
Unfortunately, Flea has found out why it’s so difficult to counter antivaccination woo when it comes from certain quarters. If you’re the least bit blunt in doing it, you’ll be labeled as a bully or being insensitive to a mother’s pain, even if you bend over backwards to acknowledge how tragic the death of a child–any child–is. It is indeed truly sad that the child of the mother who posted on the forums died. However, in her grief, this particular mother is spreading misinformation that could harm others. The child’s mother deserves sympathy for her loss. However, it does not follow from our sympathy as human beings for her that we are obligated to remain silent in the face of the message about vaccines that she is spreading. Flea tried to walk that tightrope, and, as he found out, it’s almost impossible to do.