Dena Churchill lost her licence to practise chiropractic in Nova Scotia over sharing anti-vaccination posts on social media that have been either unfounded or disproved. She says if the price for sharing her health “truths” is a $100,000 fine and losing her career, she’s willing to accept it.
The former Halifax-based chiropractor surrendered her licence and admitted to charges of professional incompetence following a lengthy investigation by the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors, all prompted by Churchill’s persistent sharing of views on vaccines that are either unfounded or disproved.
In a decision publicly released in July, a hearing committee of the college said Churchill “has shown no remorse. There is genuine concern that she is ungovernable.”
In a recent interview, Churchill said she believes there is a distinction between what she was posting on personal social media pages and what she was doing in her professional capacity. She said she felt “assaulted” that her professional governing body could mandate and govern her personal views.
“I didn’t want to take [the posts] down,” she said.
“This whole issue is not about what I was doing in my practice or what I was promoting in my practice … I was reprimanded on my own personal views and wanting to share it with the people I love.”
‘I’d go knock on every door’
In launching its investigation and delivering its ruling, the college took issue not with the views specifically, but that Churchill continued to share them online. She did so in the context of presenting herself as a doctor. Vaccines are not in a chiropractor’s scope of practice, something Churchill was repeatedly reminded of by the college.
Churchill said the information she was sharing was intended for just a few family members, although she also compared what she was doing to living in a building she discovered had arsenic in the water system.
“I’d go knock on every door in that building to let them know because I would feel a human desire to help and to share information,” she said.
While she disputed the suggestion she is against vaccines, during the interview, she spoke several times about her unfounded belief that the flu vaccine has “250 times the amount of mercury that’s allowed in the environment.”
In fact, there is more mercury in a can of white albacore tuna than what’s used as part of the preservative in multi-dose influenza vaccines, according to an information paper by the British Columbia Immunization Committee Professional Education Working Group, which includes data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and The Institute of Medicine.
A ‘hero’ or ‘out to lunch’
The hearing committee found Churchill’s conduct “brought the profession of chiropractic into disrepute.” She said that was a concern for her, and one of the reasons she surrendered her licence.
Although she accepted the findings as part of agreements with the college, Churchill said she thinks the term professional misconduct “was a fancy word for will not obey a command and keep quiet.”
“It was the college, and the investigative committee and the psychologist of the investigative committee that felt my ideas were delusional and that it could affect my clinical competence,” she said. “These weren’t complaints that were brought forward by my patients.”
People’s view of her will depend on their own beliefs and how much information they have, said Churchill, adding some people will think she’s “a hero,” while others will think she’s “delusional and out to lunch.”
“To have to give up my practice and sell my family home, it was stressful for me and it was a life-changing decision that I had to make at that point. And I don’t feel that my ideas are delusional.”
10 years to repay fine
The fine levied by the regulator must be paid within 10 years if Churchill is to be eligible to regain her licence to practise chiropractic. She hasn’t paid any of it to date and it appears unlikely she will.
She said she hopes one day to be paid to “speak these truths.”