Poisoning Children, Whatever Next

Just a few more jottings on ‘Hear the Silence.’ It was reviewed on Saturday Review yesterday. I already liked Tom Sutcliffe, and I like him a lot more now, because he was very harsh about it, even outraged. He said it was dreadfully biased, and that (just as I’ve been whining for the past two weeks, without even seeing it, just that one bit of dialogue I heard was enough of a warning) it was totally on the side of the angry mother, so that her point of view is the one that the audience sympathizes with. And that it makes the GPs absolute monsters. ‘I’ve never met any GPs like that!’ he said indignantly. One of the guests, though, Ruth Richardson, liked it and thought it was good and a good thing – ‘It will open the subject up to debate,’ she said.

Is that a good thing? Why? What’s the point of ‘opening up to debate’ something that doesn’t need debating? It’s not a moral or political or ethical or philosophical issue, it’s a factual one. You don’t decide facts by debating them, you decide by considering the evidence. Sometimes that also involves debate, when the evidence is not clear-cut, but does it involve debate with the general public, or with people who know something of the subject? Should we open everything up to debate as long as someone somewhere has made a scary claim about it? What if someone who’s forgotten to take her Lithium for awhile decides that toothbrushes cause high blood pressure – should we debate whether or not to stop brushing our teeth? If someone decides seatbelts make men impotent and women deaf, should we debate whether or not to stop using seatbelts? Why should we take the MMR scare seriously when there is no evidence for it?

And above all, why should we let entertainers set the terms of the debate? Why should people who write or produce or direct or act in movies have such a large role in matters that they know nothing whatever about? They have power – we all know that – they have huge power, because we love our movies and tv dramas, we love our actors, we love to be entertained and moved. And that’s exactly why people who have that kind of power ought to be very damned careful about using it. They really ought to think twice, three times, a hundred times, before making a dramatization that will persuade people not to have a vaccination against a serious illness that is fatal in 1 out of 500 cases. Stevenson complains (you can hear her do it on that Start the Week I linked to) that the government is patronising people, and in the Independent she says she doesn’t want to be told the fears are nonsense. But what if they are nonsense?! Does she want to be told they’re not when they are? Would that not also be a tad patronizing? Is it patronizing to tell people they’re wrong? Even when they are in fact wrong? Does she want never to be told she’s wrong about anything? She admits she doesn’t have the science – so why doesn’t she just note the fact that no scientists agree with Wakefield, and realize she might have the wrong end of the stick? Why doesn’t every single person connected with this drama realize how irresponsible they’re all being, and give it up? Because they’re in the entertainment biz, I guess.

Sutcliffe pointed out – with considerable heat – that there’s a bit at the end where Stevenson’s character tells a GP something like ‘You won’t get to give him a jab, all you doctors want to do is poison children to make money.’ ‘That’s outrageous, it’s libelous!’ Sutcliffe exclaimed. It does sound a bit extreme, doesn’t it – poisoning children, dear dear, what a way to behave.

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