Why is the SickKids Foundation Supporting Antivaccinationists?

In yesterday’s post, I pointed out that the notorious antivaccination group AutismOne is sponsoring a conference this October at the University of Toronto. On the agenda, dubious and implausible treatments like homeopathy and various “biochemical” treatments.

What is even more concerning is that the conference is financially supported by the SickKids Foundation, the charitable foundation of the Hospital for Sick Children, Canada’s largest children’s hospital – one of the finest in the world.

Well today I (and many of you) wrote to SickKids to register our concern about the Foundation’s support of an organization that propagates fiction about the supposed links between vaccines and autism (there isn’t one) and tout pseudoscientific, non-science-based treatments. AutismOne, as my pharmacist colleague pointed out in yesterday’s post, has probably done more than any other group to hurt the autism cause, and is jeopardizing the lives of Canadian children through an unfounded, manufactured controversy about the safety of vaccines.

So what did the SickKids Foundation say? Well it seems we all received the same response, which I’ll quote in its entirety:

“Thank you for your email concerning the conference: Changing the Course of Autism in Canada, organized by Autism Canada Foundation in collaboration with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health University of Toronto and Autism One.

The goal of this conference is to provide a respectful forum for parents, therapists, doctors, researchers and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder to share, learn and work collaboratively to expand knowledge of treatment interventions for Autism. There will be a cross section of speakers.

As part of SickKids Foundation’s National Grants Program, support is offered for conferences, workshops or symposia which are relevant to the health of Canada’s children. The purpose of the conference grants program is to support events which are organized by and/or for families with children with health challenges.

The review process is competitive and funding is limited, with a maximum of $5,000 per grant. Each conference grant application is assessed in terms of its relevance to the health of Canadian children up to 18 years of age, as well as for its fit with the conference grants program goals.

The Foundation sees value on information sharing between medical staff, community organizations, and families. It is important for families to have opportunities for open dialogue with health professionals in order to get an understanding of current research and practices.

The Foundation takes a neutral stance on complementary and alternative health care. We actually have a history of funding research on complementary and alternative health care for paediatrics. The use of complementary and alternative health care products and therapies are on the rise across Canada and there is little research on the safety and efficacy of many of these treatments and products for children and youth, as well as the effects of the interactions between natural health products and conventional medicine. For this reason, the Foundation has taken a first step to build research capacity on which to base practice and policy in these areas.

To this end SickKids Foundation funded Autism Canada in the amount of $5,000 to support their conference: Changing the Course of Autism in Canada.

I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.”

Why such an indifferent response? Shouldn’t SickKids be concerned that the Foundation’s money, donated in good faith to support child health, is supporting speakers touting ridiculous, implausible treatments like homeopathy? And why no comment at all of the antivaccination position of AutismOne?

More broadly, why would the Foundation take a “neutral” stance on complementary and alternative health care? Shouldn’t a hospital that has a 2000-person research wing that spends $145 million per year, have a Foundation that takes a science-based, evidence-based stance towards medicine, be it “alternative” or not? One that isn’t neutral towards implausible treatments and disproven theories?


The sad fact is that the SickKids Foundation is, and has been for some time, a credulous supporter of  pseudoscience. Stuff that likely raises the blood pressure of more than a few scientists in the hospital’s research institute. While most of the funds the Foundation provides look like science-based research, their complementary and alternative funding has some dubious selections:

“To our knowledge, no other objective, quantitative study involving more than a few TT practitioners has been published, and no well-designed study demonstrates any health benefit from TT. These facts, together with our experimental findings, suggest that TT claims are groundless and that further use of TT by health professionals is unjustified.”

With a $5000 grant, AutismOne has won a stamp of legitimacy from the Hospital For Sick Children. It’s a small amount, but the value to AutismOne is far greater than the cash itself. Slapping the SickKids Foundation name on the brochure gives the conference, AutismOne’s antivaccination position, and the dubious treatments it promotes, instant credibility. But it’s an insult to the hospital’s mission, legitimate autism researchers, and to parents and children dealing with autism.

I know from personal experience SickKids is a tremendous children’s hospital filled with compassionate, caring staff.  They provide world-class care. It’s a hospital I’m proud to have available. I’ve donated to the SickKids Foundation in the past. But if the Foundation is this indifferent about giving my money, and lending the hospital’s good name, to organizations that exploit autistic children and their parents, and spread antivaccination nonsense to the public, I won’t be giving money to the SickKids Foundation again.

12 thoughts on “Why is the SickKids Foundation Supporting Antivaccinationists?

  1. Scott what bothers me the most is Sick Kids has some of the best autism researchers in the world. These researchers through the baby sibs trial have shown autism can be diagnosed as early as 6 months. This is crucial… Early intervention and NOT chelation or homeopathy treatment has been associated with better clinical outcomes for autistic children. This research group has helped my family with the worry that my youngest son might have also been autistic (fortunately he is not). I will always be grateful to this group of researchers for their help and support for my family.

    Unless I can direct the money that I give to Sick Kids they will not receive another penny from me or my direct family.

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  3. More comments from the blogosphere

    When a respected institution like SickKids gives grants to those who call themselves healers after neglecting all the hard work that has to come with that title, and keeps an open ear to outright quacks who ignore good science for the sake of personal satisfaction, they’re giving undue legitimacy to people who have the potential to harm the children in their care either by doing nothing to help them and calling it treatment, or applying an untested, potentially dangerous quack cure to their conditions.

    From: Sickkids falls for medical luddism

  4. I think we’re going about this antivax thing the wrong way. Trying to educate people won’t work…a certain proportion will continue to believe the nonsense and exempt out their kids, which will eventually lead to an outbreak of something. And since pretty much everything we vaccinate against kill kids, that something will be something bad.

    Better would be a campaign to close the loophole, i.e. change the Immunization of School Pupils Act to eliminate the conscience & religious belief exemption altogether. No vax, no school, period.

    All we have to do is keep repeating, “I don’t care what you believe, this is a public health issue not a religious issue.”

    We just need to put together an A team and get to work. Scott can be the Face and go on the CBC. I’ll be Hannibal and blow stuff up.

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