Testimony of NYVIC's Frank Fitzgerald
March 14, 2002, 250 Broadway, NYC, Assembly Hearing Room, 19th Floor
Public Health Emergency Planning and Response and the
Model Emergency State Health Powers Act (MESHPA)
I am heartened by the inclusion of language in the latest version of A9508 that allows people "for reasons of health, religion or conscience" to opt out of the vaccination "treatment" envisioned by the bill; however, in order to protect the larger segment of the population that would, doubtless, avail themselves of the treatments offered by the state in an extraordinary emergency, full information regarding the possible hazards of the treatments must be made available to all. To do otherwise would make the concept of "informed consent" meaningless and place many people needlessly at risk. Additionally, the information should be made readily and widely available as soon as this, or similar legislation is enacted.
Another concern is that of assigning extraordinary power to a single government official without a clear agreement on what constitutes an "emergency" and an appropriate response.
Skepticism and cynicism regarding government "health emergency" programs run by elected officials who have no scientific expertise has been underscored here in NYC by the widespread and indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides to combat the alleged threat of "West Nile virus." While the "virus" seems to have harmed very few, and we are left wondering how much damage the spraying may have caused, one thing we do know is that the public was mislead regarding the dangers of the chemicals used. During 1999 and 2000 NY State Attorney General Spitzer repeatedly warned Mayor Giuliani that it was illegal for any company to describe these toxic pesticides as "safe," but the warnings were ignored and those rightly and conscientiously concerned with the dangers of the spraying were dismissed by the city's chief executive as "environmental terrorists."
The skepticism about government has spread to the US military where hundreds of service personnel have put their careers at risk by refusing Anthrax vaccination out of fear of adverse reactions and continued distrust stemming from past troop exposures to substances ranging from Agent Orange to Gulf War vaccines and treatments. In testimony to the House Committee on Government Reform, Thomas Colosimo, a former Senior Airman in the United States Air Force who received a disability settlement from the government as a result of Anthrax vaccine damage, stated, "... when I was vaccinated, I was not informed of any potential adverse side effects or of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). There were no hand outs, product inserts, literature, or health questionnaires to read or fill out. I just had to report to immunization, turn in my shot records, and receive the shot. When I voiced my concerns about receiving this vaccine, I was told failure to comply was punishable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I was uncomfortable with accepting the vaccination, but I complied and put my faith in the system."
The fact is that these respected members of our Armed Forces have come to believe, like many citizens, that mass vaccination programs run by bureaucrats whose job it is to obtain maximum "compliance," cannot be trusted to have much interest in an individual's unique bodily makeup, unique genetic and immunity requirements and state of health. These objectors draw our attention to the basic fact that this is not merely a scientific problem to be solved, but a profoundly human one that must be approached with the deepest respect for the individuals we all want to protect.
The vaccines that will be called upon to battle "health emergencies" will carry risks and may, by any standard, be experimental. We have all condemned the barbarism of German and Japanese Axis medical experimentation, but now, 60 years later, if our people are subjected to potentially dangerous treatments against their will, can we still call our system a democracy? Though the intention here is more benign, the end result could be even more far-reaching.
I urge you to view this complex question of health and disease as one that can best be evaluated by informed "patients" in consultation with medical professionals who know them best - and care about them. I urge you to ensure that any emergency health legislation enacted respects the doctor-patient relationship so vital to one's well-being and also, that the people of New York are supplied with the information necessary to make an informed choice. Lastly, look to build in safeguards within the legislation that will protect us from over-reactions to threats by public health and elected officials. By attending to these issues, you will build public trust, which is inimitable to a successful response to the potential emergencies being considered.
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Testimony of Martha Fitzgerald
Full text of Assembly bill A9508
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