Anti-Vaccination Advocate to Headline Ottawa Cancer Event: CFI Canada, CASS and Ottawa Skeptics Issue Response
The upcoming fundraising event “Bust a Move”, held regionally in Ottawa is planning to host Anti-Vaccination Advocate Jenny McCarthy as headliner. McCarthy’s writings have contributed substantially to the belief that vaccines cause autism and cancer. Together with CFI Ottawa, CFI Canada, and the Comittee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism, we have released the statement below.
An Open Letter to Bernice Rachkowski
To Bernice Rachkowski
Leadership Committee Chair
Bust a Move 2013
Dear Ms Rachkowski,
We are greatly disappointed to hear of your decision to select Jenny McCarthy as headliner for the Bust a Move fundraiser this year. As pointed out by the Ottawa Citizen, Ms. McCarthy is well-known for her outspoken support for deeply unscientific and anti-health claims regarding vaccination and autism. As such, she is entirely unsuitable to represent a cancer charity such as the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and we ask you to please reconsider this unwise invitation.
McCarthy has claimed for years that vaccines cause autism, ignoring copious scientific evidence that there is no such connection. She has used her celebrity to spearhead a public campaign to discredit childhood vaccination, a medical advance responsible for saving millions of lives every year. Her celebrity status – which you cite as the reason for your invitation – has helped her to persuade large numbers of parents to leave their children defenceless against potentially lethal illnesses such as measles and whooping cough. The dangers of such reckless misinformation have become increasingly apparent in recent years with the tragically unnecessary resurgence of several of these diseases.
McCarthy’s campaign against vaccinations should be of particular concern to the ORCF, for declining vaccination rates have an impact on cancer and cancer survival rates. The HPV vaccine, which shows great promise in reducing the incidence of cervical and other cancers, has met with resistance and disappointingly low uptake rates, in part because of the public distrust of vaccination sown by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. Moreover, the reduction in herd immunity caused by wide-scale refusal to vaccinate children poses a very real threat to the survival of immunocompromised cancer patients.
By inviting Jenny McCarthy to participate in your fundraiser, you raise her profile within the community, and implicitly give support to her anti-vaccination efforts. Even though she may not mention these views as part of your event, she will gain credibility from association with such a reputable and well-liked charity as the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. At the same time, you bring yourself into disrepute by inviting such a controversial figure to play a prominent part in your campaign. As members of the medical, scientific, and skeptical communities, we cannot help but question the judgement of an organization that would extend such an invitation.
It is not too late. You are reported in the Ottawa Citizen to have said that you would be surprised if people were upset by your invitation of Ms McCarthy. This was clearly a miscalculation. We hope that you will recognize the error that you have made and restore public trust in your organization by rescinding this invitation.
Michael Payton, National Executive Director, Centre for Inquiry Canada
Iain Martel and Steve Livingston, Co-chairs, Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism
Chris Hebbern, Chair, Ottawa Skeptics
Seanna Watson, Chair, Centre for Inquiry Ottawa