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New York #MEAction Protests Per Fink at Columbia University – Here’s what happened

The protest against the Danish physician, Per Fink, last week demonstrates how our community takes action in a variety of ways to fight for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

1) #MEAction New York organized a protest outside the conference where Fink was presenting on his unscientific theory of Bodily Distress Syndrome, which includes ME and various other diseases. (Medical providers received Continuing Education credit for attending Fink’s presentation!) 2) Four people with ME attended the conference in order to counter Fink about his assumptions during the Q&A. And, 3) more than 10,000 people signed the #MEAction petition asking Columbia University to uninvite Fink from speaking at the conference.

#MEAction NY protests Per Fink spreading misinformation about ME at Columbia University. | Photo by Steve Applebaum.

“I understand the importance of the right to free speech but it crosses the line when it harms patients,” said ME activist, Mary Dimmock, who attended the conference in order to question Fink. “And there’s plenty of evidence that his psychosomatic approach to care is denying people with ME appropriate medical care and causing harm. This approach dismisses evidence of the multi-system biological impairment of ME. Instead, the approach focuses on convincing patients their symptoms are not evidence of physical disease but can be treated and even cured with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET).

Fink was invited to a psychosomatic conference at Columbia University last weekend to educate medical providers about his unscientific theory that illnesses like ME, irritable bowel syndrome, whiplash, Lyme, Fibromyalgia, and many others, are psychosomatic, which he categorizes beneath the umbrella term, Bodily Distress Syndrome or Functional Disorders. These terms have not been approved for use in any diagnostic coding system. 

(Meanwhile, #MEAction just launched a Continuing Education program for medical providers to educate them about diagnosing and treating ME based on the premise that ME is a real, multi-system disease, as the research indicates.)

Protesters picket Per Fink outside the psychosomatic conference at Columbia University. | Photo by Steve Applebaum.

Fink’s clinic in Denmark teaches doctors how to retrain ME patients to convince them that they have a psychosomatic illness and have simply become afraid of exerting themselves. His treatment plan focuses on exercise and talk therapy, and isolating patients from other specialists and their family, if necessary.

#MEAction New York organized a nonviolent direct action protest outside the conference on Saturday morning, attended by both people with ME and allies, where they picketed, handed out flyers, unfurled banners, and shouted chants. (Check out the protest on social media under the hashtag #ScienceNotStigma.)

New York State Senator, Brad Hoylman, attended the protest to lend support to people with ME.

“We need to ground research in ME based on biological causes and that’s why I am here today to stand up for the activists, to stand up for the patients.” he said. In a statement, Hoylman said:

New York Senator, Brad Hoylman (center), attends the protest to lend support to people with ME. | Photo by Michelle Wild.

“Per Fink perpetuates the debunked and demoralizing falsehood that ME is psychosomatic illness rather than a serious biological disease. This has ramifications, including inappropriate treatments and inadequate funding for research. I’m proud to stand with those who suffer from ME, and the advocates and doctors who work on their behalf against this cruel and dangerous practitioner.”

Donny Moss, an able-bodied activist and ally, managed to enter the conference room where Fink was speaking to disrupt his talk by yelling, “Spreading this misinformation about people with ME is reckless. When people with ME are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! ”

He was cooperating by walking away with security when they tackled him and handcuffed him in the hallway. He was then released and joined the protest outside.

“I have a couple of friends with ME and I’ve seen how much they suffer from the disease so much so that they cannot even be here today,” Donny said. “And I am able-bodied and I wanted to be a voice for my friends.”

Watch the video below of ME ally, Donny Moss, interrupting Per Fink’s talk, and an interview with Donny afterwards.

 

Four ME activists, including a doctor, attended the conference in order to question Fink about his unscientific theory. They asked Fink to justify the harm that graded exercise therapy has caused people with ME given the aerobic energy metabolism impairment within the disease. Fink responded that there is no evidence that exercise causes harm and that exercise is appropriate for every condition whether biological or not.

Per Fink’s sessions were not heavily attended (only 12 people attended his workshop) but the participants seemed primed to accept psychological constructs like Fink’s, as well as the mantra that exercise is always good, Mary Dimmock reported. View the handout that Fink provided about Functional Disorders. 

Finally, #MEAction delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to Columbia University requesting that the course director uninvite Per Fink from the conference being held at at the university. 

Per Fink defends his clinic

Three days before the protest, Per Fink posted a statement on the Aarhus University webpage in which he criticizes the ME community for speaking publicly about Karina Hansen, who was forcibly removed from her home and hospitalized against her will in 2013, at the age of 24. This was done at the direction of the Minster of Health, Astrid Krag, the Holstebro police and Per Fink. Per Fink and Nils Balle Christensen, head doctors at the Research Clinic for Functional Disorders and Psychosomatics, arranged for Karina to be involuntarily institutionalized at the Hammel Neuro Center where Karina was a de facto psychiatric patient.

The truth is that, after the first attempt to remove Karina from her home in May of 2012, Karina explicitly gave approval to the Danish ME Association to use information from her medical record, her image and all the details of her case to raise awareness about her situation, and protect other people with ME from the same fate. Karina also gave her parents power of attorney in order to protect herself, which the police ignored when they forcibly removed her from her home.

Fink further claims in the statement that his clinic would never hold someone against their will, which is exactly what happened to 24-year-old Karina, who was treated against her will by the clinic, who called the police, who attempted to run away, and whose parents were prevented from visiting her.

(Karina was finally released after three-and-a-half years of forced institutionalization, and returned home much worse than when she had left. When Fink’s clinic could not cure her, they diagnosed her with Pervasive Refusal Syndrome — a pathologization of her unwillingness to obey instructions she knew would make her worse. A court finally released her from state guardianship only last week.)

The fight is real

Meanwhile, the Danish Health Authority released recommended treatments for ME last June that are based on the treatment approach promoted by Per Fink. The recommendations classify ME as “Functional Somatic Syndrome,” in which people with ME are regarded as “de-conditioned,” requiring exercise and talk therapy to  to correct their “incorrect illness beliefs,” and pull them out of their funk. Read more.

Similarly, Finland is also recommending that the government adopt the Danish model based on Per Fink’s clinic for its national guidelines for chronic fatigue syndrome.

Government and insurance companies favor psychosomatic approaches like Per Fink’s because they are cheap. Instead of having to address the multi-system dysfunctions in the body from a complex, biological disease like ME, the medical establishment can blame the abnormalities on the patient’s frame of mind, and focus on inexpensive treatment options like exercise, talk therapy and anti-depressants. In the long run, this will only lead to sicker and more debilitated citizens. 

Insurance companies also stand to save a lot of money from this approach. In Denmark, Fink’s clinic and its research projects are massively supported by the insurance company, Tryg, and the drug company Lundbeck. Tryg also paid for a media consultant to sell the concept of treating ME and other illnesses as functional disorders.

In the UK, insurance companies like Unum and Swiss Re have lobbied for a biopsychosocial (BPS) model of ME/CFS, which promotes talk and exercise therapy as treatment options, as a way to save money. In 2017, Fink made a presentation for Swiss Re where he claimed his treatments would save money.

The ME community will continue to fight to protect our international community from the dangerous pseudoscience and human rights abuse by people like Per Fink.

 

Categories: Advocacy, All News, Community, Denmark, Featured news, Human rights, Uncategorized, United States

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9 comments on “New York #MEAction Protests Per Fink at Columbia University – Here’s what happened
  1. Esther Siebert says:

    Was Dr. Fink effectively confronted in the workshop in the question and answer period?

    Can the sponsoring department and attendees of the workshop be sent refuting evidence such as the IOM report or David Tuller’s reports refuting the PACE studies?

  2. Helen Franco says:

    Per Fink should be JAILED for 3+ years! I thought Denmark was a country, where it’s citizens have basic human rights…?

    What brave lawyer in Denmark will stand up, prosecute and jail this animal? Every day imprisoned was a day of harm. Jail and revocation of his license to practice any medicine…ever! Compensatory damages $ for her treatment under Per Fink.

    My diagnosis of ME/CFS was found through tests done at Columbia Pres. How could they invite such a hack! Shame on Columbia.

  3. Maschelle Mashburn says:

    My dear Lord. This is terrifying! It wasn’t long ago that Multiple Sclerosis patients were institutionalized and diagnosed with “Hysteria” aka “Psychosomatic Illness”. They were brutalized, molested by being manually masturbated by physicians under the label of “treatment”?! Our Country has a shameful history of such atrocities being perpetuated on seriously ill female patients in Sanitoriums and “Lunatic Asylums” (dispicable title!). The abuse going on in these places were exposed by the visiting press and we didn’t even see these monsters who were hiding under the title of “Mental Health Professionals” incarcerated! They just wandered off..
    Are we about to see a recurrence of these practices be perpetuated on a new set of patients suffering from serious illnesses which Per Fink holds his evil, black umbrella term of BDS over?
    How is someone like THAT be allowed to speak to our doctors? Mental health is as valid as physical health and there is no shame or stigma in having a mental health dx… but there IS a stigma to be dx with #cfs, Fibromyalgia, IBS, lyme diseases and other physical illnesses.
    I thought we were finally passed this question of graded exercise therapy being beneficial, having no effect, or detrimental to be used in the treatment of MECFS!
    Do mental health educators not look at scientific fact about these illnesses before they jump on the mental health diagnosis soapbox? Why don’t they educate themselves before they perpetuate brutality upon seriously ill people? They shouldn’t be teaching anyting! They are the one with the narrow way of thinking. Not even considering the science disproving a mental health diagnosis! These people have tunnel vision and they stigmatize people with physical health issues as being mental and in denial! We need to revamp are mental health standards in education of practitioners!

    And something else that scary is many Family Physicians thank a mental health diagnosis must be right and trumps anything they would have thought was going on. They put this profession on the pedestal instead of doing their job and looking at the physical part of a person’s health. I just am scared to death of the implications and the Horrors they could be Revisited on us after we finally have some answers heading in directions that are yielding results and information.

    I don’t think we’d see Adolf Hitler hosted out of Political Science teaching convention handing out continuing medical education credits for listening to him.

    We need to educate with the facts. While I am totally grateful to the gentleman advocating for me and my fellow patients, these sorts of places expect a certain amount of decorum be kept in place. Pomp and Circumstance if you will. They would only set their jaw more stubbornly from somebody yelling as a way of advocating with in their conference that is going on at the time. It might have been better to provide information from doctors like Ian Lipkin before the convention since they don’t respect us as patients. He would have been listen to with respect or at the very least the dean of that College would have been unwilling to host this man if he had been given the scientific evidence before the conference.
    but I would sure like it if somebody stood up like that for me! That man’s ill friends are lucky to have him as a friend!

    If the powers that be in our own country won’t look at the medical facts I don’t know how to be effective against somebody like that being celebrated and allowed to teach bad science in our country. I seriously hope this country does not accept his methods and does not sign on! It would be the beginning of a very terrifying Holocaust and we would be the victims.

  4. cathrine engsig says:

    Per FInk is a psycharitist not a physician

    Any response from Columbia ?

    1. A Psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor by definition. A Psychologist is not. If he is a Psychiatrist, then he is an MD ie Physician.

  5. Terri Wilder says:

    A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders.

  6. Rebecca Sears says:

    I wanted to join the Per Fink protest but was too ill to move that day. I’m horrified by his thinking and that Columbia gave him this platform. Columbia knows better.
    I really need to know if they responded to his talk. What did they say? Must I strike them off my paltry list of healthcare providers?
    I am in despair.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      I can understand how you feel, Rebecca. But please don’t write Columbia off your list. Universities are like octopuses and clearly this tentacle did not know what the medical side is doing. Please don’t despair over this.
      Progress is never a straight line and sometimes it is one person at a time.

      I spoke to people at Columbia to protest his appearance and was told our objections were being taking seriously. So I believe that even though he spoke, a pall was cast over his views. His views are on the way out. The PACE study was recently withdrawn from a prestigious medical journal for review! We are making progress. Of course not fast enough. I just listened to a talk by Dr. Jose Montoya at Stanford and they are working on a biomarker and much else. He was my first ME doctor. I hope you will reach out to people and professionals as needed to help you cope. I was very concerned when I heard you are feeling despair and it is so important for you to get help for that now. And know that so many good people are working to help us get better. With warmest regards, your sister in ME, Esther

  7. Nancy Blake says:

    When money is at the root of it, we need to fight back and prove that psychological treatment and exercise produces long-term disability.

    Ramsay treated with immediate prescription for complete rest. This allowed many to recover, and many more to improve. If insurers and doctors sent their ME/CFS patients home for a six month rest, and these patients were able to return to work, think how much money that would save!

    http://www.positivehealth.com/article/cfs-me/medically-unexplained-symptoms-diverting-5-year-funding-from-mental-health

    Until they realise this, ME/CFS patients need to know this themselves: that going to your doctor about your ME/CFS wastes precious energy needed to properly recover. Frequent visits increase the liklihood of a psychiatric diagnosis (MUS, or Functional Disorder, or BDD) and referral for treatments which are guaranteed to make you worse.

    Ask your doctor to do the tests needed to eliminate the presence of a treatable disease, and do not hesitate to see your doctor about any other medical issue.

    But otherwise, explain to your doctor that a six-month rest would save his time, medical costs, long-term insurance costs, and would give you the best possible chance of recovery.

    ME/CFS is very likely to be an autoimmune response to an as yet unidentified virus (or several). Our immune system requires enormous amounts of energy. In the absence of a known medical treatment, it makes sense to conserve the maximum of our body’s energy for our immune system to fight whatever the pathogen is.
    In that sense, rest is actually an effective treatment, in that it allows the body to focus all its resources on dealing with whatever the pathogen is.

    And out here in the world as it is, continuing to visit your doctor for help with your ME/CFS is the most dangerous thing you can do. The Wesseleys, the Per Finks, are unfortunately, still in control of medical perception, the media, the insurers and government agencies. In the UK, the NICE Guideline Review is completely in the hands of the BPS people. Doctors willl continue to be forced to comply with recommendations that will do us harm.

    http://www.positivehealth.com/article/cfs-me/what-can-we-expect-from-the-current-review-of-nice-guideline-cg53

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