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Demonstrators protest Dana-Farber’s fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago

Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, addressed the crowd from the steps of Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School at Saturday’s protest. Trump’s immigration order is at odds with hospital policy, protesters said.
Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, addressed the crowd from the steps of Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School at Saturday’s protest. Trump’s immigration order is at odds with hospital policy, protesters said. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

More than 100 demonstrators who object to President Trump’s immigration order gathered Saturday afternoon to protest plans by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to hold a fund-raiser later this month at Trump’s Florida resort.

The protest on the steps of Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School drew a crowd that included Dana-Farber patients, hospital employees, medical students, and area physicians. A group of Harvard Medical School students organized the demonstration.

The Dana-Farber fund-raiser is planned for Saturday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump flew to the exclusive enclave Friday as he entertains Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife during their visit to the United States.

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Alice Smythe, a Dana-Farber patient from Jamaica Plain who raised $15,000 for the hospital after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, said potential donors might withhold contributions because of the event at Trump’s resort.

“You cannot put a price on reputation,” Smythe said to applause. “Reputation is everything. Reputation is the real power behind why so many people are willing to give to this otherwise wonderful institute that I love! Reputation is what pays fund-raising dividends long into the future.”

About 20 Dana-Farber employees also assembled in front of the crowd as Dr. Julie Losman read a statement prepared on behalf of a group of staff members who had asked hospital leaders to move the fund-raiser elsewhere.

Dana-Farber declined to relocate the event, but announced Thursday that it would avoid “controversial venues” in the future.

A Harvard Medical School spokeswoman referred questions about the demonstration to Dana-Farber, which declined to comment. In earlier statements, the hospital has said it was too late to cancel the event, and that doing so at this point could be viewed as a political move.

“A decision at this point to cancel, as has been requested by some, would also be seen as a political statement, and again, our goal is to stay out of politics,” Dana-Farber president Dr. Laurie Glimcher and board chairman Josh Bekenstein said in a statement issued Thursday.

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The statement read by Losman expressed disappointment in the decision to go forward with the Mar-a-Lago event, but said hospital leaders agreed to establish a task force to develop global cancer-fighting strategies with countries lacking adequate scientific resources.

“You cannot put a price on reputation,” said Alice Smythe, a Dana-Farber patient from Jamaica Plain who raised $15,000 for the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer.
“You cannot put a price on reputation,” said Alice Smythe, a Dana-Farber patient from Jamaica Plain who raised $15,000 for the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

“We believe that the initiative that was born from this controversy has the potential to have an important and beneficial impact on the international scientific community and on the advancement of cancer care for all people,” the statement said.

Pressure to cancel the event has come from inside and outside Dana-Farber. As of Saturday evening, more than 2,700 people had signed an online petition urging the hospital to relocate the fund-raiser.

A letter signed by more than 200 Dana-Farber faculty and staff members and sent to Glimcher said Trump’s immigration order is at odds with the hospital’s policy of treating patients and employees equally regardless of their backgrounds.

Donors are paying between $1,250 to $100,000 to attend the party. Dana-Farber raised $2.2 million at last year’s Mar-a-Lago gala, according to a video on the hospital’s website.

Some protesters also denounced Trump’s vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act and criticized remarks he’s made demeaning women, minorities, people with disabilities, and others.

“We must jump in the fight for the life and freedom of our fellow humans even when bigoted laws and executive orders restrict our steps,” said Dr. Lachelle Dawn Weeks, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We must do this because our silence and our inaction threatens the lives of our patients and of ourselves.”

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Trump said Friday he may revise his immigration directive or issue a new order. His comments came after an appeals court unanimously refused to lift a lower court decision halting enforcement of the order.

The directive issued on Jan. 27 stopped all refugees from coming to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prevented citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering for 90 days.

A similar protest was held Saturday afternoon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which is also holding a fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 25. A hospital spokeswoman said the demonstration was peaceful.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.