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Please, when you decide to ‘advocate’ for a family’s fund raising efforts towards treatment for their sick child, parent or sibling*, check what the money is being used for is sound.

Articles about families raising funds in the hope of curing a seriously ill child* no doubt sell copy, but with that comes responsibility.

These articles, with their details of how to support the appeal at the bottom, effectively advocate the appeal to the reader.

Sure, you could say whether the treatment is sound is for the reader to judge before putting their money towards the appeal – but wouldn’t that be newspapers shirking their moral responsibilities?

If you put down details of the appeal in the article you’re effectively putting your weight behind it.

Editors, like most people, will be aware that articles in the press carry some weight of creditability, rightly or wrongly. There will be an expectation among many that the media has checked ‘the facts’.**

It seems to me either that this checking should done, and done properly, or the advocacy dropped.

My brief missive here follows from an article Siouxsie Wiles has just posted, raising concerns over an article out today in the New Zealand Herald. I won’t repeat the details here – you can pick them up from links in her article.

Like her, I will (later) pen a letter to the editor.

I will add this is an issue has previously bothered me from other coverage I’ve seen in the New Zealand media. It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last, unfortunately.

On a related note, I have seen some rather blunt criticism of those willing to investigate these treatments or expressed concern. People need to respect that some will make the effort to put their time and skills, as the case may be, towards a critical judgement of a treatment. Rather than ‘shoot down’ these people and what they say, realise that these people almost certainly have respect for the situation.

Let me close on that note. I have every sympathy for families in these situations. Like most people, I have experienced people I care for suffer from cancer or other illness that have little hope of recovery. There is a place for critical analysis. Done sympathetically and thoroughly, it benefits everyone.***

UPDATE: There is now a long article covering the case that prompted my and Siouxsie’s articles that, among other things, delves into the medical background and options. I have admit I’m pleased that earlier in the piece his words echo my thoughts:

’Unfortunately, so is the credulous variety of reporting that doesn’t actually look into Burzynski’s treatment and the lack of evidence for it. […] That credulity is understandable in the parents of a child dying of cancer. It’s not so understandable in a reporter’

It’s nice to know I’m not standing alone in calling out for stronger journalism.

Footnotes

Siouxsie Wiles has already beaten me to this but I’d still like to add my voice!

* Niece, nephew, etc.

** People like me and my colleagues who have seen media repeatedly mangle science and medicine coverage will know the reality is less favourable…

*** It’s the, sometimes personalised, attacks or ‘shouting down’ that hurts.