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When the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, approved the resolution “Protecting Children from Mercury-containing Drugs” on April 29th, it brought a new and commanding voice to the issue of mercury in medicine. Comprised of 992 international delegates, the General Conference is the top decision-making body of the United Methodist Church. In passing this resolution, the United Methodist Church affirms its commitment to safe vaccines and seeks to safeguard public confidence in vaccines and other drugs by advocating the removal of mercury from them.
Mercury is a known poison, neurotoxin, and carcinogen. Of particular concern, thimerosal, the mercury-based ‘preservative’ first patented in 1928, remains commonplace in some vaccines (including flu and tetanus shots) as well as other drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, used in the United States and abroad. With many published scientific, medical, toxicological, and epidemiological studies (some underwritten by pharmaceutical companies and government agencies) reaching opposite conclusions about the danger posed by mercury in the global drug supply, the United Methodist resolution brings a new religious and ethical perspective to this debate even as it brings this issue to the attention of a global community of concerned Christians.
With its passage, The United Methodist Church, with 11.5 million members around the world, becomes the largest global organization and the first faith community to advocate for mercury- free drugs. Because The United Methodist Church has a network of medical missions, clinics, and hospitals around the world, its leadership hopes that their expressed preference for mercury-free vaccines will cause other agencies involved in the delivery of healthcare, both in the United States and around the world, to examine this issue with great care. Early efforts, first led by the Rev. Lisa Sykes and other parents of mercury-injured children, brought their well-researched concerns about mercury in medicine to the attention of their local churches and annual conferences. Ms. Julie Taylor, Executive Secretary for Children, Youth, and Family Advocacy, within the Women’s Division, explained:
“As part of its history, the organization of United Methodist Women has advocated for the health and education of women and children. Because of their faith and since the turn of the century, the women have sought to raise awareness and provide assistance for these areas of concern, both in this country and around the world. Undertaking the issue of mercury in vaccines and other drugs is just one expression of that faith and commitment. Today’s women are advocating for safe vaccines. They want children to be protected from diseases but they also want that to occur in as safe a manner as possible. Getting mercury out of vaccines is one way to do that.”
A number of factors underscore why this issue has ascended through the structures of The United Methodist Church so quickly. The first is that this issue is consistent with both the history and the doctrine of the denomination. Affirmed in the United Methodist Book of Discipline is the church’s great commitment to social justice: “The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.”