At the beginning of this month, I wrote about two instances I’d observed where the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network provided advice to parents who came to them asking what to do in cases of suspected vaccine preventable disease or exposure to vaccine preventable disease. You can read the blog post here.
When these posts appeared on the AVN’s Facebook wall, there was discussion on Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network’s Facebook wall regarding the legality of the AVN providing medical advice. Some participants in this discussion stated that they were considering submitting complaints to the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission.
Complaints to the HCCC (and to the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gambling and Racing, who deal with granting fund raising licences) have been submitted in the past by both persons associated with SAVN and others. The most notable complaint thus far led to a hearing in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in which the HCCC was found to be unable to issue a public health warning against the AVN or require them to place a disclaimer on their website due to a loophole in the legislation. A clear summary of what occurred can be found in this article by Rick Morton on Mamamia. While the outcome of the court case was a great disappointment for those who feel that the AVN should be accountable for the misinformation they spread, we are a persistent lot and I look forward to eventually reporting some very good news as a result of the efforts of my esteemed colleagues.
Understandably, the AVN’s president does not like these complaints. She incorrectly labels them as ‘vexatious’ (these complaints are not intended to cause annoyance, they are intended to assist government bodies reduce the danger the AVN presents), feels that we waste the time and resources of governmental bodies (who exist to deal with precisely what is being submitted) and considers complaints regarding the AVN to be a form of personal abuse and harassment.
After learning that she was facing another round of complaint submissions following SAVN noticing that she was providing dangerous medical advice to parents, Meryl Dorey issued the following announcement on the AVN’s Facebook page.
The disclaimer here is equivalent to a Quack Miranda Warning, being a statement issued by charlatans to avoid legal action should anyone believe what they have to say or purchase what they are selling. A typical Quack Miranda Warning from the US reads:
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
Similarly, Meryl’s disclaimer above attempts to absolve her of any responsibility for what she (or others speaking for the AVN) are saying.
Phil Kent on SAVN’s page paraphrased it wonderfully, stating that:
“The pseudoscience I promote personally and as the president and spokesperson of my organisation do not represent my personal views and opinions or those of the organisation I represent.”
It would be interesting to hear the opinion of an expert in law as to whether Meryl’s disclaimer is actually sufficient to provide her or the AVN with any legal protection, given the high standard of conduct expected of an HCCC recognised Health Care Provider.
When I first read Meryl’s announcement about her disclaimer, I wondered whether she was being at all wise in calling people who believed that she was giving advice (rather than ‘sharing information’) “stupid”, given that she may well have been insulting those who will eventually be making decisions regarding the AVN’s future (not to mention the number of esteemed folk who contacted me after I wrote about the AVN’s advice giving, aghast and appalled that they were doing such a thing).
Calling complainants “bastards” did not strike me as wise either, though the potential repercussions may be more substantial than I initially thought, given Section 98 of the 1993 Health Care Complaints Act, which states,
98 Offence: intimidation or bribery of complainants
(1) A person who, by threat, intimidation or inducement, persuades or attempts to persuade another person:
(a) not to make a complaint to the Commission or a professional council or not to continue with a complaint made to the Commission or a professional council, or
(b) not to have discussions with, or take part in proceedings before, the Commission or a professional council concerning a complaint or a matter that could become the subject of a complaint,
is guilty of an offence.
(2) A person who refuses to employ or dismisses another person, subjects another person to any detriment, or harasses another person, because the other person:
(a) intends to make a complaint, has made a complaint, or has had a complaint made on his or her behalf or otherwise concerning him or her, to the Commission or a professional council, or
(b) intends to take part, is taking part, or has taken part in any discussions with, or proceedings before, the Commission or a professional council concerning a complaint or a matter which could become the subject of a complaint,
is guilty of an offence.
A (since banned and deleted) SAVN commenter on the AVN’s Facebook page questioned whether Meryl was calling complainants “bastards”. Her reply:
“I wasn’t referring to complainants – I was referring to people on your page who”… “file vexatious complaints”.
The full thread is viewable here, including obligatory cries of ‘sheeple’ and many deleted comments.
Back to the HCCC case that went to the NSW Supreme Court that I mentioned earlier, where the HCCC was found to be unable to demand that the AVN place a disclaimer on their website. That disclaimer is as follows:
1. The Australian Vaccination Network’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere.
2. The information provided should not be read as medical advice; and
3. The decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.
The AVN put a lot of effort and money in to challenging the HCCC in the Supreme Court. Aside from the acknowledgement that the AVN is anti-vaccination (they prefer to frame themselves as being ‘pro-choice’ and in turn highly inaccurately claim that their critics are ‘anti-choice’), the AVN’s self-imposed disclaimer covers all ground that the HCCC’s disclaimer did… and it is now being attached to each of the AVN’s blog posts and relevant Facebook comments.
It’s a small victory, but I’m counting it as a win. I’m sure that there are many more to come.
Quack Miranda Warning – Rationalwiki