Organising and Fighting Back
The cases of Dr Sarah Myhill MB BS in Britain and Meryl Dorey in Australia have many things in common. The objective of the cases from the perspective of those who attacked them are, in Sarah Myhill’s case, to force vaccine and therapeutic hegemony on Britain’s doctors, and in Meryl Dorey’s case to enforce the use of vaccination on Australia’s parents. They have both been the subjects of originally anonymous complaints by Skeptics, and after bogus investigations, they were both ordered to take down or alter parts of their websites.
The censoring of health information about medicine on the Internet is something that corporations have been very concerned about over recent years. Both the complaints against Dr Myhill and Meryl Dorey were made by Skeptic fellow travellers, citing material, in Dr Myhill’s case, which alluded to vaccination and the treatment of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), (END NOTE 52) and on the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) site about the problems and adverse reactions to vaccination.
The Skeptical complainants in both cases, however, manifest a different reaction from the complaints they had made, in England to the GMC and in Australia first to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). The Australian complainant appeared publicly with the over–aggressive emphasis used by quackbusters to protect themselves on film and on the Internet. In England, the medical research worker who complained about the content of Dr Myhill’s site wanted to remain anonymous — as they often do. When, however, Stuart Jones’s name entered the public domain, he suddenly became contrite in a thoroughly English way.
Stuart Jones explained on the BadScience site how he came to make the complaint almost be accident; presenting himself in the most reasonable of lights: (53)
OK, so I finally bit the bullet and complained (anonymously for reasons that will become clear) to the GMC about uber–quack, (54) Dr Sarah Myhill, and to my surprise they have decided to launch a Fitness to Practise investigation.
Her response has been quite interesting so I thought I would share it with the Badscience community. It will be interesting to see how the GMC proceed as I believe she has been in the same situation on numerous occasions in the past with similar public campaigns resulting in the GMC dropping charges for undisclosed reasons.
Jones maintained that he had complained anonymously ‘for reasons that will become clear’, but all that became clear was that Jones wished to shield himself from criticism from Dr Myhill, her supporters, her patients and any other concerned citizen. There was a good deal of discussion on the Bad Science site about whether or not complainants’ anonymity should be respected.
In private the real reasons that Jones struck out for anonymity became clear when he emailed Dr Myhill, miserably complaining that he hoped the matter of his identity could be tucked away. In this communication he showed that he was now considerably embarrassed and slightly fearful of being criticised for behaving like a common informer.
He shouldn’t, of course, have been emailing Dr Myhill personally under any circumstances. His first worry was for that angel of medicine Ben Goldacre. It was important, Jones said, that no one identified Goldacre with him and his complaint, as this would have been terribly unfair:
Sarah, I have just been notified that somebody has posted a message on yahoo answers calling for Ben Goldacre to be struck–off by the GMC for instigating a ‘campaign’ against you. This is really quite disturbing, especially as the person adding the message appears to want to make it look as though you yourself posted it. Regardless of any opinion you may have of me, I do hope you share my concerns on this. Regards, Stuart. (55)
Clearly Jones is a man of considerable feeling and sensitivity. His next email to ‘Sarah’ gave a hint that he himself might be concerned that people would think badly of him and others.
Dear Sarah, I think this particular conspiracy theory now needs to be laid to rest to save everybody concerned a lot of time/effort. As my details are now becoming publically available (thanks largely to GMC’s incompetence) it should be quite clear that I am not working in some kind of witch–hunt coalition with Badscience members/Ben Goldacre/Simon Wessely, in a ‘campaign’ against you. This is clearly nonsense as I have never had any contact with any of these people and have acted entirely on my own initiative in bringing this complaint, which in any case can hardly be considered a ‘campaign’. My only link with Badscience is that I happen to enjoy discussing topical issues from time to time on the forum there. You have my word that I am not conspiring with any other dr’s/health professionals in making this complaint and that I am not acting on anyone else’s behalf. I think my reasons for choosing anonymity following submission of the complaint (remember the GMC have my full details so the actual complaint itself was not anonymous) have become quite clear. You are obviously highly regarded by the various support groups who have bought into this particular theory, perhaps it would be wise to calm the waters before this particular situation gets out of hand? I think it would also be wise to keep any details we share by email private. (56)
The attacks on Dr Sarah Myhill began in 2001 and since then she has faced the prospect of six GMC Fitness to Practise Hearings. No complaint ever came from a patient; all came instead from other doctors or from the GMC itself. During those investigations, her website was extensively examined by the GMC, including the use of a commissioned expert witness report; it was not found wanting. All allegations over a decade were dropped with no case to answer, and no sanctions were placed on her practice.
On 8 April 2010, Sarah received a letter from Rebecca Townsley, assistant registrar at the GMC, stating that there had been two complaints about her medical practice received by the GMC. The GMC considered that these complaints brought her fitness to practise into question and so instigated an Interim Orders Panel Hearing.
One complaint that was termed the ‘B12 Complaint’ came from a practice of eight GPs, Dr H L Moss and Partners, who complained about Sarah’s advice that they should prescribe vitamin B12 and magnesium sulphate injections to a patient at their practice who suffered from Batten’s disease.
The ‘Website Complaint’ concerned a complainant, described as a clinical scientist, who considered that Dr Myhill’s website represented a risk to public safety. As far as Sarah Myhill was concerned, the complainant was effectively anonymous, although he quickly became known as Stuart Jones.
These complaints were heard at an IOP Hearing held on 29th April 2010. Despite the fact that the GMC has frequently claimed that it does not control the practice of doctors, a major content of the complaint against Dr Myhill was evidently aimed at stopping her from taking various treatment courses. The complaints against Myhill arise from the belief that her treatments do not conform to National Guidelines, in the case of the website complaint, and that Sarah Myhill’s recommended treatments in the case of the B12 were off licence and therefore in some way not generally recommended. Both Neil Jinks, GMC assistant registrar in 2006, and the gynaecologist Wendy Savage in her book A Savage Enquiry (about her own struggle with the GMC, which became a cause célèbre), make the point that the GMC cannot get involved in treatment modalities, stating that:
It is not the place of the GMC to take a position on the correctness or otherwise of generally recommended or of possible ‘cutting edge’ treatment… One of the most important principles of the practice of medicine is that of clinical autonomy, which allows a fully trained doctor the responsibility for deciding which mode of treatment is best for his or her patients… Clinical autonomy means that consultants and GPs are responsible for their own clinical decisions and should not be criticised by their colleagues as long as those decisions are within the ‘broad limits of acceptable medical practice’.
To me the most important aspects of criticism of any GMC hearing are to do with procedure. Due process is to my mind the most important part of law; without due process the law becomes a confusing area where vested interests compete with each other to serve their own ends. The GMC has made common practice out of processes that the Metropolitan Police at it most corrupt in the 1970s only dreamed about.
One of the first principles of British, European and even world law has always been that the accused is allowed to face their accuser in the court, not simply so that the accuser’s demeanour and physical presence can be seen by a jury, but also, and most importantly, so that the accused can cross–examine the accuser.
This process has only recently been forfeited in some terrorist trials or those involving informers to whom harm might later fall. Even then, in such cases, the witness has to arrive at the court and, though their voice might be disguised and though they may sit behind a screen, they are bound to answer questions from the defence that go to the heart of their accusation.
The GMC, in line with organisations like the RSPCA and RSPCC and other lower tribunals, now allow complainants to keep their anonymity. In the 1990s, when the pharmaceutical companies desired to bring their own cases before the GMC against doctors who worked against their interests, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's (ABPI) own private investigation agency MEDICOLEGAL INVESTIGATIONS LIMITED worked with the journalists to bring a number of cases before the GMC. (57) It seems to have been the case that, at that time, the GMC was unprepared to act unethically bringing charges without complainants to the hearings.
A decade and a half later, however, in the case of Dr. Andy Wakefield, the GMC appeared happy to ditch all pretence of due process. Brian Deer, a journalist for The Sunday Times, ‘uncovered’ the story of Dr Wakefield’s wrongdoings and then, after consorting with MLI and its appearance in The Sunday Times, sent his ‘evidence’ to the GMC, who caught it and ran with it. The prosecution case never reached further than Deer’s improbable ‘exposé’. Deer was never asked to give evidence and it seems more than likely that the GMC felt Deer would have been a poor and perhaps volatile witness, unable to cope under cross–examination.
In the case of Dr Myhill, the GMC excelled itself, flying in the face of hundreds of years of jurisprudence. Despite there being two sets of original complainants, the GMC refused to bring any of them to give evidence or be cross–examined. Just how, a person would be able to prove their innocence without tackling the accuser is beyond reason. However, the GMC seems to sidestep such minor issues.
None of the partners of one complaint including Dr Y, a partner from the practice who had complained against Dr Myhill, was brought to any hearings. Neither was Professor Bouloux, the expert witness who tendered a flawed expert witness report. Of course, in relation to the second set of charges, Stuart Jones was not present for cross–examination. Keen to cross–examine all these parties, the defence asked to subpoena the practice partner, only to be told that only the GMC could subpoena witnesses. How does the GMC get away with this?
The website complaint against Dr Myhill was perhaps far more complex than either she or her lawyers understood. For the past 10 years, the FDA especially, but also all the corporate interest organisations and the UK regulatory agencies have tried hard to bring ‘health freedom’ websites under control. It’s the same old story: while pharmaceutical companies sell off their produce to agents who sell them over the Internet with no care about buyers’ medical status or full explanations of adverse reactions, alternative medicine practitioners or campaigners are increasingly coming under attack for explaining their therapies or criticising pharmaceutical medicine.
In Dr Myhill’s case, the website complaint from Stuart Jones was based on a personal belief system, which bore little relation to any objective reality. The complainant seemed to believe that NICE guidelines were in some way mandatory, and that doctors who do not abide by them should be investigated for malpractice. This is not the case. (58)
The website complaint brought up the issues of due process, perhaps more than any complaints made in Dr Myhill’s case. The GMC seems to have reassured the complaining medical research worker of his anonymity and the lack of need for him to attend the hearing. How, then, was his completely unreferenced complaint to be pursued? He had, for instance, objected to a claim on Dr Myhill’s website that women should not always attend for breast screening. And yet, the concept of regular mass breast screening it is now often criticised, as this reference in the Belfast Telegraph makes clear:
The UK’s national breast screening programme is harming almost as many women as it helps and must be urgently re–evaluated, a review in England has claimed. The benefits of breast screening — early detection of cancer followed by rapid treatment — are finely balanced against the harms of over–diagnosis followed by unnecessary treatment and suffering, the review says.
Breast screening has divided the medical establishment for more than 20 years. The central drawback of screening is that in some cases the cancer (or other disease) detected does not need treating, either because it is a false alarm, because it resolves naturally or because it is very slow growing (so you die of something else) ... Critics of screening suggest for every woman saved, as many as 10 undergo unnecessary treatment. (59)
In 2009, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a paper on breast screening in Denmark, which showed that deaths had fallen faster in areas without screening than those with. Researchers were accused of ‘undermining trust’.
In this account, I can only skate over the worst iniquities of the GMC abuse of process and false charges, but the outcome of the complaint against Dr Myhill, heard at the GMC in April 2010, was that she was found guilty without any evidence, in the face of completely manufactured charges, of advising some things on her website that some doctors and most pharmaceutical companies would disagree with. Her practice was restricted for nine months and her advice to patients had to be supervised, but perhaps most importantly, a number of statements and information alluding to vaccination were ordered to be taken down from her website.
In October 2010, Dr Myhill was called before another hearing the outcome of which was that she was banned from acting as a doctor for a period of six months.
Finally, for the moment at least, on 6th January 2011 the Interim Orders Panel, GMC, made the decision to lift the suspension of her GMC registration and to restore her licence to practise medicine. The Panel again placed a small number of procedural conditions on Dr Myhill’s registration, reversing its fitness to practice order while substituting a whole list of conditions. Supporters of Dr Myhill promote this change as a win and suggest that the prescribed conditions are largely cosmetic and procedural. Dr Myhill herself suggests that this climb–down will enable her ‘to carry out about 95% of her normal work’. However, reading the new terms and condition of practice, one is struck by just how arrogant and partisan the GMC is as they continue to protect their backs, principally concerned about being taken to a real court.
In the book there is a section about Meryl Dorey that you will have to buy the book to read. It then continues ...
The objective of the Myhill and Dorey cases from the perspective of those who attacked them, are, in Sarah Myhill’s case, to force therapeutic hegemony on Britain’s doctors, and, in Meryl Dorey’s case, to enforce the use of allopathic pharmaceuticals, specifically vaccines on Australia’s parents. To these ends, they were both the subjects of originally anonymous complaints by those sympathetic to the Skeptics, and they were both ordered, after a bogus investigation, to take down or alter parts of their websites.
The censuring of health information about medicine on the Internet is something that corporations have been very concerned about and committed to over recent years. This is interesting when one considers that these same people and these same organisations get hysterical about China and other countries interfering with the communications laws and regulations of other countries.
The complaints against Dr Myhill and Meryl Dorey were made by Skeptic fellow travellers, citing material, in Dr Myhill’s case, that alluded to vaccination and the treatment of ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) (64) and on the Australian Vaccination Network about the problems with adverse reactions to vaccination. This has involved concerted attacks on those who put forward such views. The contemporary vaccine wars have been waged at an escalating rate in Britain since the sixties and industry–protective organisations have worked hard to censor alternative views to mass vaccination and herd immunity.
The Skeptical complainants in both cases, however, manifest a different reaction to the complaints they had made, in England to the GMC and in Australia to the HCCC. The Australian complainant appeared publicly, with the over–aggressive emphasis used by quackbusters to protect themselves, on film and on the Internet. Collegiate organisations, and tipped–off regulatory organisations, rounded on Meryl, upping the stakes as days went by, name–calling and using vile threats on Twitters and other email facilities, while using every conceivable form of complaint to regulatory and oversight organisations.
In both cases the complaints were made by men against women; in both cases, the victims have fought back in a collective and exemplary manner. Both victims sought advice from radical academics and campaigners, and placed this advice on a similar parallel to the advice from lawyers. (65)
The way in which both organisations fought back and clearly survived, without massive public success but with an enhanced reputation amongst those who believe in freedom and democracy, shows that people are learning clear lessons about resistance. The lessons can be summarised in this way:
• Both groups framed their fight–back in political terms, with an emphasis on freedom of speech and civil and constitutional rights.
• In varying degrees, each organisation and both of the individuals involved understood from the beginning that they were being attacked, and that those who were attacking them were out to destroy their work and their published views.
• Both groups immediately publicised a message that answered and rebutted the accusations. There were no apologies, nor linguistic compromise.
• Both groups published contemporary information telling all their supporters what was going on.
• Both groups developed their websites, rather than curtailed them.
• The British group was immediately supported by patients who demonstrated outside the GMC.
• When Skeptics and their fellow travellers became involved in violent Internet threats against Meryl Dorey, she and her colleagues went straight to the police, publicised the threats, and demanded they record the incidents.
• Both groups learned very quickly that, on the whole, journalists are a waste of space because their newspapers and other media outlets are deeply tied to corporate interests.
In both these cases the whole point of the complaints was to censor the voices of pharmaceutical and chemical victims. It is very important that we understand the simple message exposed by both these complaints. In the Brave New World of science dictocrats, there is to be only one medical view, the official view, the pharmaceutical view. Anyone, whether a doctor or a layperson, who expresses any other view is first to be censored and then punished. Parents, for example, will not be allowed access to information about vaccination that is contrary in any respect to the orthodox view. Only one view is allowed: ‘four legs good, two legs bad’. Medically, politically and socially, this is totalitarianism engineered and provoked by powerful governments and corporations.
But perhaps even more frightening in this new world is the fact that it will ultimately not be intelligent four–legged animals making the decisions, but corporate science groupies, individuals whose cultural and intellectual acumen often ranks lower than a snake’s belly.
51 (Cont.) is now in the parliamentary record, questioning the remit based on the people who had been invited to give oral submissions to the hearing. She also petitioned her MP and wrote a further two emails that were circulated to members accusing the Committee of obvious bias. She addressed the homeopathic community asking them to petition their MPs about this bias. However, there was no official statement on the issue and it proved impossible to get one on the table.
52 There has been a thirty–year campaign by psychiatric interests to prove that there are no environmental factors involved in ME.
53 Bad Science, posted on Thursday April 15th at 2.20.
54 Uber: an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing. He accuses Dr Myhill of being a supreme quack!
55 03 May 2010 10:12 to Sarah Myhill and subject titled: False accusations at Badscience/Ben Goldacre.
56 Mon, May 3, 2010 at 6:04 PM Jones to Myhill.
57 In the mid 1990s they worked with Duncan Campbell, the New Statesman’s journalist who joined the Campaign Against Health Fraud.
58 Dr Myhill’s legal brief.
59 Belfast Telegraph on 4 August 2010:
62 An understanding of this organisation gives us a clear indication of what herbalists, homeopaths and nutritionists will be faced with when complaints are brought to the Health Professions Council (HPC), in the new regulatory system outlined at the beginning of this chapter.
64 (From previous page) Walker, J Martin. SKEWED: Psychiatric hegemony and the manufacture of mental illness, in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Gulf War Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Slingshot Publications. London 2003.
65 Jayne Bryant and One Click helped organise support for Dr Sarah Myhill, while Brian Martin, the exceptional Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Wollongong, and I both helped Meryl Dorey, although with nothing she wasn’t capable of organising herself!