Heroes of Sustainability: Dr. Helen Caldicott and The Ultimate Form of Preventive Medicine

“She showed me what one set-on-fire human being can do to shift the consciousness of the world.”  –Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

Madonna once called to chat. Meryl Streep said, “Helen Caldicott has been my inspiration to speak out.” Martin Sheen says she’s shining “a powerful light.”

A number of well-known celebrities back the work of Dr. Helen Caldicott, but in the world of anti-nuclear activists, Dr. Caldicott’s name is a bigger marquee than all her Hollywood supporters combined.

For nearly 40 years, Australia native Dr. Caldicott has been on a mission to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the changes humans need to make to stop environmental destruction.

She started her career as a doctor, founding the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in 1975 and then moving to the United States to become an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a staff member at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. But as good as she was at medicine, in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, the pull of preventing nuclear war was stronger, and in 1980, she resigned in order to give her full-time attention to this mission. Her medical roots, however, continue to inform her work. In her book Nuclear Madness, she writes: “As a doctor, as well as a mother and a world citizen, I wish to practice the ultimate form of preventive medicine by ridding the earth of these technologies that propagate disease, suffering, and death.”

Dr. Caldicott doesn’t just talk about her beliefs — she does something about them. In the U.S., she co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization of 23,000 doctors committed to educating their colleagues about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear war, and has started similar groups in other countries. The international umbrella organization, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

She has written prolifically on the topic of halting nuclear weapons production, authoring seven books and countless articles. Most recently, she updated her classic If You Love This Planet, detailing trends such as ozone depletion, global warming, toxic pollution, food contamination, and deforestation, but offering hope as she rallies readers of the book to fight for the earth as we know it.

Her work has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Caldicott has received more than 20 honorary doctoral degrees from universities, and she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling, a Nobel Laureate. In 2003, she was presented with the Lannan Foundation’s Prize for Cultural Freedom; she was named Humanist of the Year in 1982 by the American Humanist Association; and the Smithsonian Institute labeled her one of the most influential women of the 20th century.

And like her Hollywood supporters, she’s been in movies — not as an actor, but as the subject. Eight Minutes to Midnight was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981, while If You Love This Planet took home the Academy Award for best documentary in 1982. Helen’s War: Portrait of a Dissident was created by Dr. Caldicott’s filmmaker niece and won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Direction (Documentary) 2004, and the Sydney Film Festival Dendy Award for Best Documentary in 2004.

Now splitting her time between Australia and the U.S., Dr. Caldicott gives lectures and hosts a weekly radio show called If You Love This Planet, which covers issues such as global warming, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, toxic pollution, hunger and poverty, and species extinction in an hour-long, in-depth format.

A lifetime devoted to educating the public came at a personal cost, leaving Dr. Caldicott with too little family time and a failed marriage. In the end, though, she believes it was her destiny. “I could have stayed at Harvard and done really well. I had a great boss. But I could see beyond pouring stuff into test tubes and treating individual patients. What was the use of caring for my patients so carefully if, in fact, they had no future?”

For more information on Dr. Caldicott, visit her website at www.helencaldicott.com.

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3 thoughts on “Heroes of Sustainability: Dr. Helen Caldicott and The Ultimate Form of Preventive Medicine

  1. Pingback: Recognising an Australian anti-nuclear hero « Antinuclear

  2. Pingback: The anti nuclear cause – a form of preventive medicine « nuclear-news

  3. In Praise of Warrior Women – The Helen Prize

    The 1999 International Helen Prize Humanitarian Award Recipient
    Ambassador Renate Jakupca.

    The Helen Prize is an international award celebrating the accomplishments of women from around the world who have made heroic but unrecognized contributions to their communities….largely unsung heroes, doing traditional as well as non-traditional jobs, in developing countries and industrialized nations. The Helen Prize respects and acknowledges the multitude of women who courageously contribute to making a difference in the world and improving life on this planet.

    Dr. Akhtar Naraghi, Montreal poet and writer, named this prize for Dr. Helen Caldicott, a fiery anti-nuclear activist and founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, (Nobel Peace Prize, 1985). Helen Caldicott’s work became world-renowned through the Academy Award-winning documentary, “If You Love This Planet”.

    Ambassador Renate, co-founder of the The International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA), was honored as the recipient of The International Helen Prize Humanitarian Award on March 8th, 1999 at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Ambassador Renate was also officially recognized at this time by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

    The International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) is a force for socially responsible activity whose mission is ‘ICEAlity’, that is to “Assist in understanding of the relationship between Humans and their Environment through the Arts for a sustainable Culture of Peace”. American Cultural Ambassadors David and Renate Jakupca founded ICEA to meet the compelling needs of ordinary citizens for access to current, balanced, understandable information about complex global issues. Over the years, ICEA has gained a reputation for excellence based upon a unique library of specialized, current information on global importance and a wide range of imaginative programming and collaborations with other organizations to meet the needs of a broad constituency. With affiliates across the globe, the ICEA supports research, information sharing and effective action promoting a sustainable global culture of Peace

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