Online Censorship of Health Information Is Authoritarianism

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN columnist

Critics of stem cell therapy have taken their censorship campaign to another frightening and paternalistic step up the authoritarian ladder. Not only does it threaten freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of health, but now it’s targeting poor people.

The campaign to stop people from accessing stem cell therapy (SCT) has been building for some time. First there was fearmongering to scare patients away from SCT, followed by a push to have regulatory agencies increase enforcement.  Then came a call for social media platforms like YouTube to censor patient testimonials about the benefits of SCT.

Now, in a disturbing turn, critics are pressuring fundraising platforms like GoFundMe to purge campaigns that seek to raise funds for SCT.

In a recent op/ed in the BBC’s Future, London-based neurologist Dr. Jules Montague argues that crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe need to crackdown on patients seeking to raise money for stem cell treatments. Montague says their testimonials omit the “unfounded hype” and potential risks associated with SCT. These “bad actors,” according to Montague, should be banned to “halt the spread of misinformation.”

To propose that crowdfunding sites be tasked with choosing winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas, and to impose quasi-criminal sanctions on poor patients is to enter a decidedly dictatorial dimension. “Bad actor” is a legal term of art, and should be left to the jurisdiction of a court of law or other legislatively-authorized tribunal. That’s how things work in a democracy.

On the other hand, authoritarian regimes censor whatever speech they see fit, arbitrarily and without explanation. As it pertains to crowdfunding sites, what we absolutely do not need is unelected and unappointed “experts’” selling misplaced fears.

The question that should be asked is why do the SCT critics fear the agency of the people? Is the notion that people can make their own medical decisions – and accept the risks of those decisions – without “expert” stewardship, consultation or approval such a terrifying prospect?

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Ultimately, this “purge and censor” line of argument represents a slippery slope that is distinctly anti-democratic. And at the bottom of the slope, are piled the bodies of the sick, whose desperation is fueled by the abject failures of mainstream medicine.

Equally disturbing is the fact that stem cell censorship on fundraising platforms would be a clear and unmistakable attack on the poor. Poor people are the ones who need to raise money, not the wealthy. The average person doesn’t have the finances of a star athlete like Max Scherzer or a celebrity actress like Selma Blair to get stem cell treatment. Instead, they have to rely on the generosity of others, a generosity that crowdfunding sites facilitate. To censor SCT fundraising is to not only censor a voice, but a livelihood, and maybe even a life itself. Poor people should not be punished for being poor.

Does Dr. Montague really expect GoFundMe and other sites to establish their own internal ethics boards and become the online sentinels of poor people’s health? There is no defensible or rational justification for preventing chronically ill poor people from raising the money they need to save their own lives.

Online Censorship Increasing

Unfortunately, online censorship of alternative health information is not new. In fact, it’s increasing. Facebook recently deleted dozens of alternative health pages without any notice or explanation. Some, such as Natural Cures Not Medicine and Just Natural Medicine, had millions of followers.

GreenMedInfo was kicked off Pinterest for violating its “misinformation policy” which bans “false cures” for chronic illnesses. And who helps Pinterest determine what health advice is false?

“We rely on information from nationally and internationally recognized institutions, including the CDC and WHO, to help us determine if content violates these guidelines,” Pinterest explained in an email.

Recent changes to Google’s Broad Core Algorithms have also suppressed search results for alternative medical information. As a consequence, hundreds of health websites have experienced drastic drops in traffic, including Pain News Network. One website, owned by alternative health advocate Dr. Joseph Mercola, lost about 99% of its traffic.

“Big Tech has joined the movement, bringing in a global concentration of wealth to eliminate competition and critical voices,” Mercola warned. “This year, we’ve seen an unprecedented push to implement censorship across all online platforms, making it increasingly difficult to obtain and share crucial information about health topics.”

We’ve seen an unprecedented push to implement censorship across all online platforms, making it increasingly difficult to obtain and share crucial information about health topics.
— Dr. Joseph Mercola

Even Wikipedia, which relies on open source editing for its content, has succumbed to the “deletionism” of alternative health information.

“We believe that organised skeptic groups are actively targeting Wikipedia articles that promote natural, non-drug therapies with which they disagree,” says the Alliance for Natural Health. “The new trick of these editors is to rewrite or entirely remove pertinent information from such articles or, worse still, delete entire articles altogether.”

It now appears that stem cell therapy is the next hooded subject to be escorted into the Star Chamber of deletionism. The call for fundraising censorship is distinctly ant-human, and denies the most essential and primordial of human instincts – to assist a fellow human being in their time of need.

It is not the place of GoFundMe or any other fundraising site to police people’s medical choices. GoFundMe, your core principles are turning “compassion into action” and the sharing of people’s stories “far and wide.” Please do not capitulate to the SCT bullies.

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A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

You're as Healthy as the Food You Eat

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist  

It’s important that patients with chronic pain conditions maintain a healthy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy foods. I know this is so much easier said than done.

You are what you eat, right? We hear this often growing up, but what does it really mean? If I have a cupcake or a slice of cheesecake, am I going to live through the night? Over course I am. But day after day of poor eating will have long-term health consequences. And when our health is poor, other aspects of life are also likely to suffer.

Patients with chronic pain and illness typically lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Because we are less active and burn off fewer calories, we are at greater risk for developing other medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. I myself have been dealing with poor posture and sudden weight gain and loss. I fall easily and have trouble gripping and holding onto things. 

One area we have more control over is what we eat and who we are eating with. When I’m at home, my spouse cooks meals for me. I used to just let him choose what he wanted to make because I was just happy to have a meal prepared for me.

I have been really working on my eating habits since being diagnosed as "skinny fat" last year. I had to change where I am eating, how I am eating and what I am eating. Although my husband doesn’t eat the same food as me most of the time, my healthier habits have rubbed off on him.

I make a grocery list for what I want to eat, instead of just eating what he prepares for himself. I also now eat about 6 times a day instead of 3 bigger meals and a snack. 

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Hopefully those around you are supportive of you making changes in your diet. When they see you make a conscious effort to choose your own meal and set your own portion limits, they may be empowered to pay attention to their own habits. You don’t have to say “no” to everything, just keep indulgences under control, eat smaller portions and be mindful of what you are eating.  

As a former athlete, I know nutrition is crucial for good performance outcomes. But when I got sick, I let all of that go. I had more important challenges to focus on, or so I thought.

Nutrition plays a role in chronic pain and how we prepare our bodies to cope with the stress.  Make sure your doctor is doing frequent blood testing to check for any deficiencies you may develop. A friend of mine developed Hypokalemia, a potassium deficiency that led to a psychological breakdown and two mental hospital stays.

Medications can also affect your liver, kidneys and digestive system. Blood testing can help prevent this from getting out of control and let you know if dietary supplements are needed to counter poor vitamin absorption.  

Maintaining good nutrition and hygiene may be difficult, but are very important. My new reality is that I am disabled and need to ask for help. I have to pay attention to what I eat, my hormones, my vitamins and everything I put on and in my body.

Eating is an important part of our lives and healing is a process. I have to control the parts of my life that I can to be able to live the life that I want.  

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at her website.  

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Health Is the Wealth We Need

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

I recently came across an interesting quote on Instagram about the four types of wealth. The quote goes like this:

“There are 4 types of wealth:

  1. Financial wealth (money)

  2. Social wealth (status)

  3. Time wealth (freedom)

  4. Physical wealth (health)

Be wary of jobs that lure you in with 1 and 2, but rob you of 3 and 4.”

The quote is meant as advice for people looking for employment and the types of jobs they should seek. But I look at it from the health perspective, since that is my biggest challenge in life.  I want health wealth. Financial, social and time wealth are often dependent on our health wealth. Without health we are limited in what we can do.  

People planning to have a child wish for a healthy baby. We also wish for long and healthy lives. We don’t always get to choose our health or even learn how to achieve it. I believe one way to help this would be putting more emphasis on health education in school.

It is hard to have good social wealth when your health is poor. You can’t participate in as many social outings or events, and you may have a poorer attitude about your living situation if you have a chronic pain condition. Belonging to a social group, maintaining friendships, being actively engaged in a positive productive way, and even being married all raise your social wealth.

Maintaining financial wealth is more straightforward. You either have money or you don’t. But even when you have money, you are often working on making, getting or winning more. Most of us would love to be millionaires, but even on relatively modest incomes of $75,000, studies show that people are happier.

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Now take the average income of someone disabled by pain. Our households typically bring in less than $30,000 and many single disabled people are living on less than $15,000 a year. It is difficult to climb out of a financial rut with poor health and medical bills needing to be paid.

I know chronic pain patients who work, but due to poor health they are not able to take jobs that are high paying or sustainable long-term. Missing work due to illness, brain fog due to pain, depression, anxiety and painsomnia all affect our ability to be productive in a standard work environment. And it is often more difficult for a company hire you due to extra liability or disability costs made to accommodate you.

Even when your own health is good and you are taking care of someone who is disabled, it affects your finances through the type of jobs you take, health insurance, medical bills and supporting the rest of the family.

My husband has lost multiple jobs because my health care and insurance costs were too high for his employers. They found or invented reasons to let him go, such as missing too much work because he had to take time off to drive me to appointments. One company fired him for entering the parking lot without scanning his badge at the guard gate on the way in, a common practice in the mornings when the line to enter the lot was long.

For all of the reasons above, I believe that health wealth is the most important when it comes to living life to the fullest. It takes the most effort and action of all four types of wealth.

We strive to improve our health wealth so that we can live better lives. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for retirement to enjoy ourselves, so we must find and create moments when we can use our time and social wealth. They are the two most easily obtainable when living with chronic illness and striving for health wealth.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

A Funeral for My Health

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

I want to have a funeral for my health. I want to go abroad and throw its ashes into the sea while wearing a beautiful black dress and Jackie O sunglasses to hide my tear-stained eyes.

I want to take a week off work and forget to shower while everyone brings me casseroles. And I want all of my friends and family to acknowledge what I’ve lost with slideshows and poorly written eulogies that succeed in making everyone cry.

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I want to drink too much wine in a vain attempt to numb the pain, and maybe even take up smoking and a few bad men.

I want to sit around with lipstick stained coffee cups late at night telling stories about how amazing it was — my health.

How it let me lead so many youths on mission trips to far-off places. How it let me fall in love so many times. How it let me shower without pain, lured me into believing I would be immortal, and how it allowed me to travel the world.

I want to take all the time I need to figure out how the hell I’m going to live the rest of my life without it. How I will find love, be independent, and survive all of my physical limitations.

And I want the planet to just stop turning for one second while I catch my breath and adjust to the fact that world is a different place than it was.

The obituary would read as follows:

Crystal Sue Lindell’s health died after a 5-year long battle with her body. Her health was 34.

News about the loss came via email from her doctor when he confirmed her worst fears: She likely had hypermobile Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) -- a diagnosis that meant that she would not only never get better, she would likely continue to get worse.

Her health is survived by her body, which will, unfortunately, carry on, in immense pain, despite the loss.

There is no cure for EDS, and as such, her health is completely dead.

She looks forward to seeing her beautiful health again one day in the afterlife, where she hopes it will be waiting for her among the stars.

In lieu of flowers, Crystal asks that donations be made to EDS Awareness, a non-profit online resource for the EDS community.

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Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile EDS. 

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.