Family Ethics: Three Kennedys Choose The Public Good Over Family Loyalty. Excellent.

Three members of the fabled Kennedy Clan, that of Joseph P. and Rose, JFK, RFK and Ted, Caroline and the Late John-John, and all the rest, have publicly rebuked their vocal anti-vaxxer family member, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a statement signed by his siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, as well , Maeve Kennedy McKean, who is the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives, and calls RFK jr, “Uncle Bob.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the former chair of the Global Virus Network. [Full disclosure: she was also a resident in my undergrad House, Lowell House,  while I was in college, and we knew each other a little bit] and Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, is the chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation.

Beginning with an overview of the harm caused by  Americans avoiding vaccines, including the current measles outbreak, the three write in Politico,

These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—Joe and Kathleen’s brother and Maeve’s uncle—is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases. He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.

We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment. His work to clean up the Hudson River and his tireless advocacy against multinational organizations who have polluted our waterways and endangered families has positively affected the lives of countless Americans. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.

And his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences. The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they’ve been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact. But that’s not luck; it’s the result of concerted vaccination efforts over many years. We don’t need measles outbreaks to remind us of the value of vaccination.

It is impossible to overstate what a stunning departure this joint essay (titled “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines”) is from the traditions and practices of the Kennedy Family. It, they, all of them, have guarded the Kennedy name and legacy like Cerberus at the gates of Hell. They have intimidated historians, artists, government officials, prosecutors and others from actions and revelations that would expose the ugly (ugly, oh-so ugly) side of  many of the family’s most celebrated members.

I directed the first professional production of a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis that avoided or debunked the various myths carefully embedded in the official narrative to make President Kennedy the hero of the event, when he most definitely was not.  The play had been blocked by the Kennedys twice.

The Kennedys never stepped out of line and criticized each other in public even when they need to be criticized—at least not before now. These  third and fourth generation Kennedys faced a difficult ethics conflict: family loyalty vs. public health. Yes, the choice is clear, but that doesn’t make it easy or pleasant, Based on history, I would have bet that the decision would have gone the way it always has in the past: family first, no exceptions.

This has to be  causing an internal schism in the clan, and I would be surprised if Kathleen, Joseph and Maeve don’t suffer from it, immediately and for a long, long time. Their statement took integrity and courage, both traits certainly consistent with the Kennedy image, if not always with the family’s actual conduct.

7 thoughts on “Family Ethics: Three Kennedys Choose The Public Good Over Family Loyalty. Excellent.

  1. It makes them Ethics Heroes in my eyes. I cannot understand how people can cling to a THOROUGHLY de-bunked theory, especially one that came out of Kalifornia. It is beyond me.

  2. Good! Finally three of them have moved out of the shadows of Camelot and dared to criticize one of the senior members. Btw Jack, you should look at the Indy Neidell YouTube series on the Cuban Missile Crisis: It demonstrate how badly the Kennedys miscalculated what the Russians might do and almost plunged us into a nuclear war.

    • No, that’s the RFK spin version! The play was “The Titans,” and had been scheduled at both the Kennedy Center and the Pasedena Playhouse at various times. The Kennedys used their muscle to get both productions cancelled. Almost all the dialogue was adapted from transcripts and accounts by participants.

  3. I will concede that the anti-vaxxer crowd is off base. There is absolutely no statistical evidence to support that vaccines cause autism and the Jenny McCarthys and this Kennedy fellow of the world are doing society a disservice by promoting it. I do applaud the Kennedy Statement as it breaks ranks from the St. Kennedy Tradition.

    Call me, cynical, though, and I am ducking my head because I know I will be clobbered for what I am about to write. The statement reads, to my Dr. Pepper denied mind, as a celebration of Big Government solving all socieity’s ills. Mind you, I do not have any issue with vaccines and I think that program has been a huge benefit for society – maybe the first and only time the government did something right (head ducking – here comes the cudgel). God knows there a myriad programs that have failed miserably – can anyone say “Solyndra”?

    Yet, the statement seems to make the case that only the anti-vaxxers are at the root of the problem, that being diseases thought under control or eliminated in the US have come back (measles, for instance).* This statement places responsibility on what, less than 1 percent of the whole US population? It would seem that, if 99% of the population is vaccinated as children, then that 1% would benefit from the whole? Right? The logic would be that vaccinated children would not contract the diseases and, therefore, would not communicate them to the unvaccinated, right? Seems logical.

    If that is so, then why is measles coming back stronger? An epidemiologist I am not, but it would seem that is bigger than the anti-vaxxers. Could the problem lie at a heart of another cause/problem that is raging as we speak? Could the spread of diseases once wiped out in the US be the result of uncontrolled immigration from populations that have a sketchy (at best) or non-existent (at worst) medical system intended to control these diseases? Could it be that, aside from the economic and political toll uncontrolled immigrant takes on the country, there is an equally serious healthcare toll no one is talking about? The Kennedy Statement does not address that.


    *Ed.Note: The author of this post does recognize the libertarian view that individual, not the government, should decide what healthcare is appropriate for children. He and his long-suffering wife made that decision because we believed that vaccinating our son protected him as well as the other children there son would be around in school, the playground, swim team. They read the literature and concluded that the benefits outweighed any potential risk. But, they did it on their own, with discussion with their pediatricians.

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