Richard Saunders

While I’ve always felt that Australians tend to be somewhat more sensible and pragmatic about silly notions that so easily capture attention in other parts of the world, a matter that our friend Richard Saunders just called to my attention has brought all that to a screeching halt…

There exists a group calling itself the “Australian Vaccination Network” [AVN]. It’s headed by Meryl Dorey, a mother who has withheld immunization from her own children despite the threat to their health. As Aussie Dick Smith has said, wisely:

I think they're choosing not to vaccinate because they don't understand risk management. They are told that there is a risk with vaccination. Now, everything in life has a risk. There's a minute risk but it's been proved all over the world that the advantages far outweigh the risk.

Mrs. Dorey also publishes a website and newsletter that campaigns against mass public immunization programs, claims that vaccines cause autism, brain damage and cancer, and that one's health can be maintained without the use of pharmaceutical drugs, though no sensible observer of the situation would claim that such drugs should be used unless clearly called for. To further put Dorey and her “network” firmly in the woo-woo category, they also promote the use of homeopathy and chiropractic, both proven examples of popular quackery.

In July of 2010, the Australian Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC] issued a public warning saying simply that the AVN poses a risk to public health and safety, and that their failure to include a disclaimer in a prominent position on its website that it provides information that is solely anti-vaccination, could result in "members of the public making improperly informed decisions about whether or not to vaccinate." That seems, to me, a moderate, quite correct observation. However, just yesterday the AVN won its case against the healthcare watchdog, with the court finding that the HCCC did not have the jurisdiction to issue a public warning about what they saw as a decided danger to the Australian public.

In effect, as Australian Ken McLeod said in 2009, the organization was in breach of the Health Care Complaints Act because it made "unsubstantiated health claims based on 'conspiracy theories,' pseudo-scientific evidence and debunked research." Yes, thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, folks.

Aussies were rightly shocked recently when four-week old little Dana McCaffery died of whooping cough, an easily preventable disease via inoculation – because her parents were misinformed about the procedure. This one death is evidence enough, in my opinion, to have Meryl Dorey and her woo-woos put out of business. It remains to be seen whether her own children will survive their mother’s unwise attitude…

Mr. McLeod said the decision exposed a gaping hole in public health legislation. He said:

However, the court did not find that Australia's leading anti-vaccination group was innocent of misleading or dangerous conduct as the commission had found… Instead, the court has found that the HCCC did not have jurisdiction. This means that the AVN is accountable for their deceptive conduct to no one. Any crank and charlatan has been given a green light to spread their misinformation, and public health will suffer as a result… Clearly there is gap in the legislation that every parliamentarian has a moral responsibility to fix.

I cannot improve upon that statement…