Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Attachment Parenting Mom on Watching "The Greater Good"

By Jennifer Westmoreland Bouchard

I went down the anti-vax rabbit hole the other night. I have to admit that I learned a lot. This not-so-fantastic voyage was prompted by the fact that several friends and acquaintances had recommended I watch “The Greater Good,” described to me as a dispassionate, fair-and-balanced documentary that offers a glimpse into the complex vaccine debate.
The people who recommended this film to me largely share my parenting philosophies. For all intents and purposes, I consider myself a practitioner of attachment parenting (AP). I exclusively breastfeed my four-month-old daughter, we practice elimination communication, I wear her as much as she’ll let me, and I am extremely careful about the products I allow her to use. 
But I’ve noticed an anti-vaccine trend in attachment parenting groups (I partially attribute this to Dr. Sears’ delayed vaccine schedule), to such an extent that I always feel compelled to add that I am pro-vax whenever I’m in a conversation about AP. So, yes, I've become the AP parent who vaccinates according to the routine vaccinations scheduled outlined by the CDC. Why? Because my daughter deserves better than to be put at risk for serious illness as a result of baseless claims and anecdotal evidence. Because my community deserves better than to be subjected to an epidemic, to travel back in time to a much more dangerous time in human history, a time before safe, effective vaccines were available to a majority of the U.S. population.
I’ll be honest: I knew going in that “The Greater Good” was going to be about as fair and balanced as Fox News and as dispassionate as… well, a one-sided conversation about vaccines. I decided to approach my viewing as a sociological study, as a way to begin to understand why there are still those out there who believe the myriad falsehoods and leaps of logic that run rampant in anti-vax side of the vaccine debate.
Five minutes into the film, I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the whole thing, but I pushed ahead in the name of research. In short, the film was everything I thought it would be and more. Creative (read: deceptive) editing and splicing of sound bytes, vague science, anecdotal "evidence," everything you'd expect from a film with full support from Joe Mercola (for information on Joe Mercola, visit Science-Based Medicine's post about his appearance on Dr. Oz's show). The only reasonable parts of the film were the sections featuring Dr. Paul Offit. (I guess these few scenes were the filmmakers attempt at fair and balanced), who says something logical, then the film cuts to a figure such as notorious anti-vax crusader Barbara Loe Fisher who contradicts what he said, and then it cuts to a heart-wrenching anecdote about a child whose illness was “caused by vaccines.” There were, of course, no anecdotes about unvaccinated children whose lives had been ruined by preventable diseases.
Needless to say, I would never recommend this film to anyone. It’s simply a rehashing of all of the old anti-vax chestnuts (yes, the same ones that have been debunked by the medical community over and over). However, I’m glad I watched it. It helped me understand where anti-vaxxers get their information, and how these notions of false causality become hardened truths in their minds.
Though I’m tempted to give it a go, I’m not going to pick apart the film point-by-point. This has already been done by those much more knowledgeable about vaccine debate than I. For starters, try this piece in the Vaccine Times that dissects the film’s trailer: . Or Gorski’s remarkable dissection of the entire film at Science-Based Medicine. 
Never did I imagine that vaccinating my daughter would be perceived as a political or philosophical statement. Never did I imagine that my pediatrician would noticeably relax, relieved when I told her that we were committed to following a routine vaccination schedule. It saddens and angers me that the anti-vaccine voices have become so loud, and that more and more people are being duped into refusing vaccines for their children. Good parents question the safety of everything. It’s what we do. Questioning is important, yes. But it’s even more important to base those questions on hard scientific evidence, on correct information.
We live in a climate where everyone can get a “degree in vaccination studies” at the “University of Google.” As I remind my college students each semester as we come to final paper time, Internet research is fine, just make sure you consult quality sources. Be analytical, be tough, be unrelenting when it comes to the veracity of the information you’re reading. It is my job as a Mom Who Vaxs to be a quality (re)source, to continue to educate myself not only on the science that supports benefits of vaccines, but also on the rhetoric of the anti-vaxxers (so that I can debunk it for those who are still “on the fence” about vaccinations, or anti-vaxxers who are willing to question their views). This is my best hope for helping to make our society safer for our kids, safer for all of us.
Jen Westmoreland Bouchard is a writer, teacher, translator, and mother.


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