Second opinions

Readers respond to Peter Kurth's essay on AIDS dissident Gary Null and Julia Gracen's take on the recovered-memory craze.


Letters to the Editor
May 24, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Read "Quack Record"

I worked as an HIV nutritionist in the trenches of New York City for six years.

I never saw Gary Null and applaud Mr. Kurth for saying exactly what I'd say if I wrote that article.

Null and void!

-- Howard Miller

In the entire diatribe I found that the writer offered no information about the protocol suggested by Null (or other alternative health practitioners) or the ways in which their methods were successful or not. The review left me as uninformed as I was before I read it. OK, I get that you disagree with him, but what does that mean exactly? Wouldn't it have been a good idea to detail more specifically his approach to the disease and speak to some of the people who have actually tried it (assuming they are still alive)? I don't see your anecdotal discussion of your two friends' "healthy" lifestyle choices as intelligent refutatation of alternative therapies. Finally, I must tell you that I do not find your HIV status as sufficient credentials to challenge this work. In the future I would appreciate it if you would do more of the legwork required to make an article like this one informative.

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-- Phaedra Malino

Good for Kurth for exposing that quack Null and shame on all the PBS stations who carry his quackery during "pledge breaks." Gary Null is the unhealthiest-looking person I have ever seen anywhere -- and I've known some very ill people -- with AIDS, with leukemia. And I say this even though I've only seen him on my television set, which puts quite a lot more than the generally accepted 10 pounds on almost every performer whose picture I've seen anywhere else. His looks alone would be enough to make me shy away from whatever "health" concepts he's selling. I've been unable to listen to more than a few minutes of his blather and certainly will never spend the money or the time to read his book, so again, good for Kurth for having done homework and reporting on Null's venality and stupidity in detail.

One last thing -- what is it with "health" gurus and enemas? What is their fixation with that end of the human body? It would seem rudimentary that if they're putting the right things into the other end, the bottom end of the digestive tract would take care of itself. But then that wouldn't sell anything, would it? (I had a wonderful doctor who once said to me, "Don't put anything that's not covered with flesh into any orifice." Good dictum, though it would preclude dining out.)

-- Ardis Wade

I wouldn't have a problem with this "story" had it been a letter to the editor. But you give credence to someone who has no knowledge on this subject other than he has AIDS. The behavior of entities like you are another thing that Gary Null raves about.

-- Art Becker

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Thanks to Peter Kurth for bringing good information to the public -- even if he is wrong in his assessment of Gary Null's new book about AIDS. Kurth will, however, help Null sell books and that's a good thing.

Gary's books are heavily researched with up-to-the-minute studies as a backbone. In 10 or 20 years, Null's findings will be mainstream. Best to get on the Null track before the train leaves the station.

Kurth agrees with Null that "a complete overhaul of the American healthcare system is needed, that the pharmaceutical giants are, indeed, rapacious pigs, responsible for the deaths of millions, and that all patients need to be empowered for their own self-care: 'Until AIDS patients are offered hope and nontoxic therapies, they must continue to follow their own intuition, do their own homework, and seek out help from like-minded individuals.'"

It's odd that Kurth agrees with Null's conclusion but continues to live under the dictates of modern medicine to treat himself.

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It's obvious that Kurth, like most Americans, takes the road most traveled and hands his life over to his physician. I know too many people who died too soon from cancer because they trusted their oncologists implicitly to save their lives. They were more afraid to take a vitamin C tablet than an IV-full of poison water.

Gary Null's readers take responsibility for their own lives, question their physicians and the medical establishment. Null's readers don't take drugs as the only option in their healthcare. If you really want to be healthy, start reading and following his books.

-- Carol S. Kopf

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It never fails to amaze me how the pro-HIV=AIDS crowd can't discuss dissenters without name-calling, and Kurth is no exception. Anyone who disagrees with his position is apparently a "quack" regardless of their training or credentials.

Actually, Kurth's anecdotal "evidence" helps prove the dissenters' point. He states that he has survived 17 years of infection while taking the drug cocktails, while a health-oriented friend, infected for the same length of time, who presumably chose not to take any medications, recently dropped dead. All this proves to me is that someone can live for 17 years without taking these drugs. Some people can go decades without the drugs and live healthy lives; some die after a few years, even though they take the drug cocktails. A dispassionate look at these statistics seems to show that it all depends on the state of a person's immune system, not on the cocktails.

Kurth mentions the 22 million people in Africa "infected" with HIV, but fails to mention that half of these people have never been tested, and that they are considered infected if they suffer from only one of close to two dozen diseases associated with AIDS. He also ignores the fact that these Africans suffered from these diseases, which are usually related to poor sanitation and inadequate nutrition, long before HIV ever showed up in blood tests. He doesn't mention that the more AIDS cases reported, the more money African countries receive in humanitarian aid.

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He also fails to mention that HIV has never been isolated, contrary to popular belief, and that the scientist who invented the most sensitive test to find "remnants" of what is thought to be the virus (the PCR test), Dr. Kerry Mullis, has stated that he doesn't think that HIV causes AIDS. Dr. Mullis is a Nobel prizewinner in chemistry, but I guess he's still a quack in Kurth's view.

-- C. Elliott

Read "Truth and Reconciliation"

Thanks for printing this story. I'm shocked to hear that Laura Davis has yet another book out there making money. I threw her book "The Courage to Heal" out in the garbage when I finally came to my own senses about those "repressed memories" my therapist swore I had. I have a completely fractured relationship with my father because of her "steps to success." I can never apologize enough to him to remove the pain that I caused him by falsely accusing him of abusing me. Her words of wisdom made my life an embarrassment. My hope for her is that she should one day suffer the pain and humiliation of a parent that is falsely accused of incest. Every day I look at my sons and pray that they never fall victim to the likes of Laura Davis.

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-- Gina Cechony

"Truth and Reconciliation" is a thought-provoking article about the complexities of memory about betrayal. Unfortunately, Julia Gracen ignores an important body of scientific evidence about such memories.

What she has ignored is intriguing. Contrary to her assertion that there is no way to distinguish mistaken memories from those about actual events, we all use simple methods to deal with less than perfect memory. Asking others what they recall about an event, checking verifiable facts -- "I did mail that letter, I'm sure; oops, here it is in the hallway!" etc. -- have also been applied to memories recovered during therapy. When independent investigators sought verification for these memories, some were shown to be incorrect. However, the majority of these memories had a factual basis.

Gracen's article concludes that a recovered memory is more likely to be false than true. Why has she ignored the available science? Is she deliberately deceiving us? Or simply brandishing her failure to get the basic facts?

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When they consider the truth that Gracen has ignored, your readers may change their thinking about many of her conclusions.

-- Grant Fair

Congratulations to Julia Gracen for a thoughtful, incisive and well-balanced review on a subject that is beyond difficult and about which the general public remains woefully ill-informed. Her conclusions are quite correct: Families are never perfect, even the best of them. And it's ludicrous to expect (or, as in Davis' case, to demand) a kind of fairy tale perfection of our parents.

My problem with the recovered memory movement was, is and always will be the fact that these young adult and adult men and women have shifted public focus away from the segment of the population that most needs the spotlight: the children who have very real memories and have no need to "recover" them because their abuse is ongoing. The focus has shifted so drastically, in fact, that there is even less attention being paid to these children than there was when "Daddy's Girl" was published (in 1980 and not in 1977, as Ms. Gracen mistakenly states).

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It should be of concern to all of us that our children are provided with the care and attention and protection that society promises but so rarely delivers. We should take note that children are very aware of what they're experiencing; they cannot conveniently bury their knowledge as so many adults would have us believe. Long-term abuse does not get forgotten; it shapes what we are to become as adults. And rather than spending money on a book that rehashes and attempts to justify this discredited therapy, readers would be better advised to make a contribution to their local children's shelter. At least some good might actually come of that.

-- Charlotte Vale Allen

Just as Julia Gracen would have us believe that repressed memories of childhood abuse are mostly all false and that "The Courage to Heal" is a damaging book, her own article "Truth and Reconciliation" is damaging, biased and badly researched.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of studies that show that the blocking out of traumatic memories can and does exist. There are hundreds of documented corroborated accounts of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse that include confessions from the abuser. False Memory Syndrome is unproven and not recognized by the APA or the AMA. However, repression of memories of abuse is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders; it is called Dissociative Amnesia, and all legitimate professionals recognize it. There is also something that has existed since the beginning of time, claims of innocence by those who abuse children.

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Gracen would have us believe that those who are making claims of abuse by priests in the news today have never forgotten their abuse. Actually, there are a number of these cases that involve repressed memories of abuse by priests, including the recent and highly publicized arrest of Paul Shanley. Father Shanley was arrested on a case of repressed memory.

Another important thing that Gracen did not research is that most of those who have recovered memories of child abuse did so outside of therapy. This method of trying to discredit memories of child abuse as being implanted by overzealous therapists needs to stop.

Also misleading and false is the assertion that those who remember child sexual abuse are merely trying to relieve themselves of responsibility for their personal problems. It is a stab in the heart to the many thousands of people who suffer debilitating physical ailments, nightmares, phobias, depression, insomnia, sexual dysfunction and the many other very serious and life-altering symptoms of child sexual abuse that has been blocked by the conscious mind.

Gracen concludes that "Out-of-control recovered-memory therapists" and "accusers who broke up their families" need to "face-up" to the problems they created. The term "recovered-memory therapist" is a misnomer; there are some therapists who help some patients with childhood trauma. This label is merely used in order to discredit psychoanalysis, and the accuser does not break up a family; it is the abuser who did so when they chose to sexually abuse a child.

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-- Alethea Guthrie


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