Netflix’s “Afflicted” Cast Sues for Defamation

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Four cast members of the Netflix series, Afflicted, have filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Doc Shop producers for defamation for portraying them as ‘hypochondriacs and/or malingerers.”

The lawsuit indicates that the Doc Shop producers lied to the Afflicted participants “because the series was not a documentary in any sense of the word, but a reality series that advanced a producer-driven narrative… suggesting that the its subjects’ medically-documented physical illnesses are purely psychological and/or psychosomatic.” The plaintiffs write that the producers “systematically sow about and cast aspersions upon Afflicted’s subjects.”

The plaintiffs include Jamison Hill, who has myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), Pilar Olave and Bekah Dinnerstein who have common variable immunodeficiency disorder, and Jill Edelstein who has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 

The plaintiffs are calling for the defendants to pay general damages of no less than $1 million, and for Netflix to remove Afflicted from its site.

The Netflix series follows seven people with health conditions that are often misunderstood, under-researched, under-diagnosed and stigmatized. After the series premiered, the cast members were dismayed to see the series portray their illnesses as questionable, further contributing to the stigmatization of their disease.

After the show premiered, the cast members wrote an open letter to express their deep concerns over their portrayal on the show:

“We were all told that we would be participating in a project that would show our lives and our struggles with illness through a “compassionate lens.” We participated because our diagnoses are misunderstood and stigmatized. We thought that revealing some of the most intimate moments of our lives would lead to greater public understanding. We hoped that with it might come investment in research to find biomarkers and better treatments. We never fathomed that we were participating in a project that would instead expose us and our communities to further ridicule and disbelief.

The most serious and central flaw of Afflicted is the way it frames our conditions — which impact millions of people around the world — as psychosomatic or psychiatric disorders. It does this in part by carefully excluding facts, which show that yes, while there is a lot that science does not understand about our conditions, they have an “organic” basis.

Scientists with deep knowledge of the research literature — including several from the Open Medicine Foundation’s “Community Symposium on the Molecular Basis of ME/CFS” at Stanford, which the film crew did shoot — were either not interviewed or their interviews ended up on the cutting room floor. Instead, Afflicted frequently relies heavily on the skeptical voices of “experts” who have no relevant professional or academic expertise in our diseases.

Many of our concrete diagnoses and test results are excluded from the series. Our conventional medical doctors were not consulted during filming. Even our own skepticism about some of the alternative treatments we pursued (sometimes with the help or at the suggestion of the production company) was carefully edited out, all to craft the most sensationalist narrative possible. The damage to each of us personally and to our communities collectively is difficult to overstate and is ongoing, even as we write this post.

Since the film’s release it has been said, many times, by many viewers, that our problem is in our heads, that we can’t accept that we need mental help. Unbeknownst to these viewers, most of us have been referred to psychiatrists at some point in our illness and yet we’re still sick. This happens commonly to patients who doctors are unable to diagnose. Many of us out of desperation have even tried antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or other psychiatric or psychological interventions. They did not work. Mental illness is serious and devastating, and were that an explanation for our symptoms, we would gladly pursue treatment. We have all seen psychiatrists or psychologists, and have never been told that our physical symptoms have a psychiatric cause.”

Filmmakers, physicians, and scientists ask Netflix to remove series

Last September, more than 40 writers, activists, artists, filmmakers, physicians, and scientists wrote an open letter to Netflix to request that Afflicted be immediately removed from the service.

“We are deeply concerned about its unethical treatment of its subjects and its many factual errors and omissions,” states the letter. “Its inclusion on your platform — which reaches three hundred million viewers worldwide — will reinforce barriers to appropriate medical care or disability benefits, dampen the support of vital research, and add to the stigma and social isolation of an already profoundly marginalized group of people.

Signers include: #MEAction and Unrest director, Jen Brea; Nobel Laureate, Mario Capecchi; Actress, Lena Dunham; Anti-bullying Advocate, Monica Lewinksy; Researcher, Ron Davis; Designer, Ally Hillfiger; Disability rights advocates, Laurence Carter- Long and Judy Heumann; and many more.

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