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Caldicott, Dr. Helen Mary (1938 – ) Australian Physician and Activist

Dr. Helen Mary Caldicott (1938 )
Australian physician and activist

Dr. Helen Caldicott is a pediatrician, mother, antinuclear activist, and environmental activist. Born Helen Broinowski in Melbourne, Australia on August 7, 1938, she is known as a gifted orator and a tireless public speaker and educator. She traces her activism to age 14 when she read Nevil Shute's On the Beach, a chilling novel about nuclear holocaust. In 1961 she graduated from the University of Adelaide Medical School with bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degrees, which are the equivalent of an American M.D. She married Dr. William Caldicott in 1962, and returned to Adelaide, Australia to go into general medical practice. In 1966 she, her husband, and their three children moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where she held a fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Returning to Australia in 1969, she served first as a resident in pediatrics and then as an intern in pediatrics at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. There, she set up a clinic for cystic fibrosis , a genetic disease in children.

In the early 1970s, Caldicott led a successful campaign in Australia to ban atmospheric nuclear testing by the French in the South Pacific. Her success in inspiring a popular movement to stop the French testing has been attributed to her willingness to reach out to the Australian people through letters and television and radio appearances, in which she explained the dangers of radioactive fallout . Next, she led a successful campaign to ban the exportation of uranium by Australia. During that campaign she met strong resistance from Australia's government, which had responded to the 1974 international oil embargo by offering to sell uranium on the world market. (Uranium is the raw material for nuclear technology.) Caldicott chose to go directly to mine workers, explaining the effects of radiation on their bodies and their genes and talking about the effects of nuclear war on them and their children. As a result, the Australian Council of Trade Unions passed a resolution not to mine, sell, or transport uranium. A ban was instituted from 1975 to 1982, when Australia gave in to international pressure to resume the exportation.

In 1977 Dr. Caldicott and her husband immigrated to the United States, accepting appointments at the Children's Hospital Medical Center and teaching appointments at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. She was a co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), and she was its president at the time of the March 28, 1979 nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor in Pennsylvania. At that time, PSR was a small group of concerned medical specialists. Following the accident, the organization grew rapidly in membership, financial support, and influence. As a result of her television appearances and statements to the media following the Three Mile Island accident, Caldicott became a symbol of the movement to ban all nuclear power and oppose nuclear weapons in any form. Ironically, she resigned as president of PSR in 1983, when the organization had grown to over 20,000 members. At that time, she began to be viewed as an extreme radical in an organization that had become more moderate as it came to represent a wide, diversified membership.

She also founded Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND). WAND has been an effective group lobbying Congress against nuclear weapons.

Throughout her career, Caldicott has considered her family to be her first priority. She has three children and she emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a strong marriage, believing that good interpersonal relationships are essential before a socially-minded person can work effectively for broad social change.

Caldicott has developed videotapes and films and has written over one hundred articles which have appeared in major newspapers and magazines throughout the world. She has written four books. Her first, Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do (1978) is considered important reading in the antinuclear movement. Her second, entitled Missile Envy, was published in 1986. In If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth (1992), Caldicott discusses the race to save the planet from environmental damage resulting from excess energy consumption, pollution , ozone layer depletion , and global warming. She urges citizens of the United States to follow the example set by the Australians, who have adopted policies and laws designed to move their society toward greater corporate and institutional responsibility. She urges the various nations of the world to strive for a "new legal world order" by moving toward a sort of transnational control of the world's natural resources . One of her books, A Desperate Passion, (1996) is an autobiography in which she reflects upon crucial events that have influenced her and talks about people who have inspired her in her life and work. Her latest work was entitled The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military Industrial Complex (2002).

Caldicott is the recipient of many awards and prizes including the SANE Peace Prize, the Ghandi Peace Prize, the John-Roger Foundation's Integrity Award (which she shared with Bishop Desmond Tutu), the Norman Cousins Award for Peace-making, the Margaret Mead Award, and many others.

[Paulette L. Stenzel ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Caldicott, H. If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.

. Missle Envy. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

. Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

. The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military Industrial Complex. The New Press, 2002.

Caldicott, H. A Desperate Passion. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

PERIODICALS

Nixon, W. "Helen Caldicott: Practicing Global Preventive Medicine." E Magazine (SeptemberOctober 1992): 125.

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