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Anthrax: David Ponder

By: Peter Simpson

Date Posted: 2000-05-13

Most sane people squirm in their seats – or in more compromising positions - as the medic approaches, syringe in hand, to administer the injection. Some have more cause for alarm than others (in the US, for instance, the single shot has largely replaced the firing squad as the executioner’s instrument of choice).

In less malevolent ‘interventions’, the patient’s fear is no doubt connected to the anticipation of minor pain, though maybe there is also a lingering feeling that putting trust in the doctor’s potion (or more likely that of the promotions department of a giant pharmaceutical corporation) may have unexpected consequences.

For the most part such concerns are unfounded, and can have very damaging side effects themselves. In the US and Britain, for instance, whooping cough, a particularly virulent and potentially fatal childhood infection, went on a comeback tour when worried parents decided that the risk of side effects, described by the medical journal The Lancet as ‘so rare they defy measurement’ was too great a risk to bear and stayed home.

Even so, on occasion, the patient has a duty, as well as a right, to refuse the medication, especially in cases where neither the usefulness of the vaccine, the threat of the disease, nor the risks associated with the treatment have been properly quantified.

It seems self-evident to me that in such circumstances refusal to comply with medical procedures should constitute a basic human right. Yet, as of now 423,000 Americans (with another two million in the pipeline) have been compelled to submit to an experimental vaccination against a disease which not one of them has ever contracted. On top of that, the vaccine they are being subjected to has been associated with side effects which range from childhood deformities to death – symptoms otherwise known as gulf war syndrome.

One of this 2.4 million subpopulation is David Ponder, an experienced naval officer currently awaiting court martial here in Okinawa for disobeying an order requiring him to undergo a series of injections alleged to confer immunity against the anthrax bacterium – a man made (no sexism intended) biological weapon which for some unknown reason, the evil Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (the party alleged to possess it) has never seen fit to use against his attackers (primarily US and British forces) in spite of a decade of near constant bombardment.

Ponder’s refusal to present arm for such procedures is deemed mutinous, and mutineers are faced with a five-year stretch in prison - capped off with a dishonorable discharge (customarily described by military personnel as a certificate scuppering their life chances at McDonald’s restaurant).

On Monday (today is Saturday) a hearing will establish whether evidence from a US senate subcommittee - which recommended an immediate halt to the vaccination program for reasons of sound medicine – is even admissible.

Meanwhile, David Ponder carries the torch for all those who believe that good science is safe science.

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