Monday, October 4, 2010

Sandy Duffy (1947-2010), President of Consumers for Dental Choice

Sandy Duffy (1947-2010), President of Consumers for Dental Choice

Sandra Noreen Duffy – president of Consumers for Dental Choice, successful attorney, community leader, wife, and mother of five – died October 2 after a valiant battle with cancer.

Sandy’s husband, Robert Greaves, another Portland (Oregon) lawyer, has also been a great friend of our movement. Sandy’s five children (four young adults and one college student) are John Hart, Terry Hart, Michel Hart, Greg Hart, and Kevin Duffy-Greaves. She leaves seven grandchildren, ages 8 to 14. Plus a bevy of friends, supporters, and admirers in her community, nation, and world.

You may publish your condolences and tributes to Sandy online by clicking here.

Robert and the family have asked that those seeking to honor Sandy consider, in lieu of flowers, a memorial gift to St. Vincent de Paul of Portland ( or to Consumers for Dental Choice (

Sandy’s Life and Legacy

In addition to being Assistant County Attorney for Multomah County, Sandy was active in her church – truly living her Christian faith day-by-day – and in her community where she served on the board of the Oregon Center for Environmental Health. As the rest of us worldwide knew her, Sandy Duffy played a leading role in shaping the movement for mercury-free dentistry, and was a key force working with Consumers for Dental Choice:

1. Sandy Duffy played a key role in dismantling the notorious gag rule – organized dentistry’s rule of conduct that prohibited dentists from informing their patients about amalgam’s mercury – that enabled dental boards to repeatedly threaten dentists’ licenses (and even take them before our movement started).

  • In a shrewd move, she persuaded the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the Oregon dental board’s gag rule as a violation of mercury-free dentists’ First Amendment right to free speech. The ACLU wrote a demand letter to the Attorney General of Oregon, who – faced with a losing lawsuit – instructed the dental board to repeal the gag rule, which it did.
  • Sandy then flew across the country to Iowa, to take on that state’s gag rule. Teaming with Iowan activist Joyce Van Haaften, Sandy once again succeeded in protecting mercury-free dentists.
  • We then invited the ACLU to take on the Connecticut gag rule on behalf of Dr. Mark Breiner; the ACLU beat the state in federal court. Each domino then got easier. Hence our announcement a few years ago (reprinted below): “Sandy Duffy and ACLU knock out the gag rule.”

With the end of the gag rule, thousands of dentists now advertise and advocate mercury-free dentistry. The marketplace changed, with up to half of dentists now mercury-free. Here’s the latest: According to a poll announced this week, an astounding one-fourth of dentists in American now supporting a total ban on amalgam! And with the profession so divided, the American Dental Association is no longer able to mount a united front to protect its favorite filling material.

2. Sandy was a powerful witness against amalgam at one high-stakes hearing after another. She testified before the U.S. Congress, before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, before the King County (Seattle) Board of Health, before state legislatures, and before state dental boards.

3. In Oregon, Sandy organized a coalition, then convinced the Oregon state legislature to require amalgam separators to catch some of dentists’ scrap mercury before it goes down the drain and into our environment. As a result, Oregon became the first state west of the Mississippi to take this step. Five days before Sandy died, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will embark on a similar course to protect the environment from dental mercury nationwide, an achievement that her son Greg conveyed to her at the hospice.

4. Sandy inspired activism. Working for mercury-free dentistry with people coast-to-coast – from Freya Koss in Philadelphia, to Jim Turner in Washington DC, to Bernice Collura in Florida, to Shawn Khorrami in Los Angeles, to Mary Ann Newell in Washington state – she set the gold standard for commitment and follow-through.

5. Not only was Sandy Board President of Consumers for Dental Choice, but she was a true leader of the mercury-free dentistry movement. Though an advocate in substance, she was moderate in temperament. For those of us whose style borders on the fractious, she worked as the uniter. She was a unifying force as we all struggled together for the common goal of an end to dental mercury.

6. Sandy Duffy was an inspiration to all, and particularly to us here at Consumers for Dental Choice. We would exchange e-mails by the day, hour, or minute. She would give the instant analysis; if it were sports, she would have been the color commentator. She helped raise money to keep the cause alive, and although she worked full-time as a litigator (which as lawyers know is the most intense field in our trade) and as the central figure in a large extended Irish Catholic family she seemed to work full-time as a pro bono lawyer as well. Three full-time jobs. Sandy had so much regard for the mercury-free dentistry movement that – this is hard to say – she withheld from me the fact of her cancer until after the first United Nations negotiating session for the world mercury treaty, so I could represent the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry in Stockholm with an uncluttered mind.

She understood the stakes. We are not playing beanbag with the pro-mercury forces inside dentistry. We fight so that millions of children, and billions of fish, will not be harmed by the often permanent effects of dental mercury. Sandy Duffy knew we are going to win, and we will.

Charlie Brown
4 October 2010

PS – Freya Koss is organizing a memorial dinner to be held the evening of the FDA hearings in Washington DC on December 14-15. Details will be announced.

PPS – The announcement we made about Sandy’s demolition of the gag rule is below.



It’s the beginning of the end of the ADA gag rule.

Portland lawyer Sandra Duffy, Oregon director for Consumers for Dental Choice, recognized that the Oregon dental board policy of enforcing the ADA gag rule on dentists criticizing mercury fillings violates the free speech rights of dentists. Accordingly, in December, she enlisted the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s champion on the First Amendment, to battle the policy.

The ACLU, through Portland lawyers Michael Simon and Julia Markley working pro bono, wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Oregon in February saying the dental board had 30 days to rescind its policy adopted back in 1990. (In that year, the Oregon dental board adopted the ADA policy aimed at gagging dentists from telling patients and the public about the health effects of mercury fillings (known, deceptively, as “silver” amalgam). The board maintained that policy despite the huge body of science showing the ADA to be wrong.)

The office of Attorney General Hardy Myers responded promptly, getting the matter on the Board agenda on March 8. Immediately, Mary Ann Newell organized a large number of consumers and health practitioners to attend, and Sandy put together a presentation to make to the dental board. On that date, the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian, ran a front-page story about the dental board denying dentists their free speech rights. The board, used to having its meetings with only dental lobbyists present, was astounded to see 40 people in its tiny meeting room, told Sandy Duffy no one could speak. She, of course, insisted that everyone have her or his say. The board – faced with an aware press, legal advice against them, and an aroused citizenry – repealed the ADA gag rule.

Since that meeting, Sandy Duffy and I have met with Jann Carson, assistant executive director of the ACLU, about pushing this issue with ACLU chapters around the nation. We commend the ACLU – remember, a champion of civil liberties for ALL of us.

The ADA gag rule is on its way to the dustbins of history. It is gone in California, after our yearlong battle out there led by Anita Tibau. It is now gone in Oregon. It failed to re-start in Florida, thanks to Julie Hilton and B.J. West. And it has no leg to stand on anywhere – any dental board who tries to enforce it is violating the First Amendment!

I urge dentists to start talking about mercury amalgam – the scientific studies, the manufacturer warnings, the Health Canada report, the fact that it’s not silver, the vapors emanating continually to children’s brain. We need you to advise, advocate, and advertise the truth. And now, thanks to Sandy Duffy and the ACLU, it’s increasingly clear you have the United States Constitution on your side!

Charlie Brown
March 12, 2002

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