Well Being

Dr. Marie McCormick Subpoenaed

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What causes autism is a question to be answered by science, or so one would think rather than by, for instance, any legal decisions or court cases. Just in the past year, there have been more and more studies refuting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and also between thimerosal and rising autism rates. More and more studies are being done that point to a complex web of genetic factors in autism. Nonetheless, legal decisions in cases involving an autistic child and claims of injury by a vaccine, as in the cases of Michelle Cedillo (whose case was brought before the “vaccine court” in June of 2007) and Hannah Poling, have continued to attract the attention of the public, and to shift attention onto the safety of vaccines, over and above the need to take care of and educate autistic children and adults.

At end of March, Kathleen Seidel, who administers the well-researched Neurodiversity website, was issued a subpoena commanding her “to appear for deposition and document production in Rev. Lisa Sykes and Seth Sykes’ $20,000,000 personal injury lawsuit, Sykes v. Bayer (Case No. 3:07-CV-660, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division).” Seidel has written carefully researched articles about a hypothetical vaccine-autism link and has offered cogent, well-documented critiques of biomedical research. This is her Motion to Quash the subpoena, which requested that she hand over “virtually the entire documentary record of my intellectual and financial life over the past four years.” Many bloggers have spoken out in support of Seidel; here is a list.

Today Seidel noted that she is “in distinguished company.” I quote from her:

Yesterday I learned that on March 26, 2008 ……. Dr. Marie McCormick, Sumner and Esther Feldberg Professor of Maternal and Child Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, was subjected to a similar experience at her Massachusetts home.

From 2001 to 2004, Dr. McCormick chaired the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), charged with analyzing and reporting on data regarding the safety of vaccination practices. During her tenure, the committee published numerous reports of its findings, now made freely available on the National Academy of Sciences website. In its 2001 report, Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism, the committee concluded that existing studies provided no support for an association on a population level between MMR immunization and autistic spectrum conditions. Vaccines and Autism, issued in May 2004, concluded that currently-available evidence favored a rejection of a causal relationship of thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

As a result of her voluntary work on the committee, Dr. McCormick has found herself a frequent target of suspicion by plaintiffs, their attorneys and advocates, and opponents of vaccines, who disagree with the committee’s conclusions, and whose legal and political positions are not supported by its reports. Now she, too, is the target of a subpoena in Sykes v. Bayer.

The subpoena was issued against Dr. McCormick on March 21 by Clifford Shoemaker, and commands her to appear for deposition on April 29 at the Boston offices of vaccine-injury litigators Conway, Homer & Chin-Caplan.

Clifford Shoemaker is a lawyer who has represented more than a few families who claim that their child was “injured” by a vaccine and became autistic; he is the lawyer for the family of Hannah Poling. A Motion to Quash the Subpoena has been filed on behalf of Dr. McCormick. More from Kathleen Seidel:

The Motion (assigned docket number 1:2008-mc-10102) indicates that although Dr. McCormick was served on March 26, and although her attorneys tried repeatedly to contact plaintiffs’ counsel to discuss the matter and to attempt in good faith to resolve or narrow the issue, Mr. Shoemaker did not respond until April 9 — the deadline for filing a motion to quash.

The Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Quash Third-Party Subpoena addresses the governance of the National Academy of Sciences, the processes by which its committees conduct and publish scientific studies and investigations, and the manner in which it screens committee members for conflicts of interest. It protests the subpoena as unduly burdensome and premature, particularly given the substantive and procedural flaws in the Amended Complaint recently filed in Sykes v. Bayer. The Memorandum discusses the legal rationale for and public policy interests served by preserving confidentiality of IOM committee deliberations reflecting “preliminary, incorrect, or incomplete analysis” of scientific matters, and previous attempts to compel discovery of such material. The Memorandum also addresses the inappropriateness of issuing the subpoena to Dr. McCormick personally, and protests its burdensome demands for material readily available from public sources and its personally invasive character.

Seidel notes that she is in “solidarity and sympathy” with Dr. McCormick, and I am too. It is unfortunate that, rather than let theories about autism causation be studied and determined by scientists and researchers, some have chosen such avenues and tactics—-especially when there are so many other issues about autism that need our attention and resources.