Well Being

The Vaccine Theory Goes to Court

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June 11th is the date that hearings in start for 4,800 claims filed by parents of autistic children who believe that their child's autism was caused by the U.S. government's vaccine program. The hearings will be held in U.S. Federal Claims Court in Washington, D.C.. As journalist Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver, writes in today's Slate, it is the theory—the hypothesis—that “vaccines cause autism” that is going to court. He writes:

The scientific consensus rejects the idea that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in vaccines, causes autism. Still, it's conceivable that some of the claimants could win, because the vaccine court requires a lower standard of scientific evidence than regular courts. And so the parents are trying to enhance the legitimacy of their arguments.

The means for this “enhancement” of the “legitimacy of their arguments” is not via appeals to science but, as Allen relates, by some parent advocacy groups' re-presenting the “remarks of a CDC scientist to make it appear that he shared their views” and also by harassing scientists whose research they disagree with by using tactics that recalls those of “certain animal rights groups” (see Nature Neuroscience editorial). Allen also details the reliance of anti-vaccine activists on the work and testimony of Dr. Mark Geier, “a fixture as an expert witness in vaccine court, where he has testified about 100 times” and his son, David Geier: “The special masters who run the vaccine court have tossed out their testimony on 10 occasions, and federal district courts have been similarly skeptical.” Dr. Geier has also “moved into a new arena—by becoming a doctor for autistic children” and claims that he has treated 120 children with his “Lupron protocol”:

The theory that thimerosal—which was largely removed from vaccines by 2002—is the cause of rising rates of autism has spurred scores of alternative practitioners in recent years to “detoxify” kids with sulfur-containing compounds (called chelation agents) that bind to heavy metals. Although various advocacy groups swear by this treatment, it does not seem to have cured autism in most, if any, kids who've tried it. This is where Geier's Lupron protocol comes in. His theory, stated in patent applications and a 2005 issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, is that chelation fails to remove mercury from some children's brains because the mercury binds to testosterone. Get rid of the testosterone with Lupron, the Geiers argue, and the mercury will come out with chelation.

Allen cites the investigative reporting of Kathleen Seidel, who oversees the Neurodiversity website, on the “significant misrepresentations” of the Geiers' Lupron protocol.

“The link between MMR vaccination and autism seems to be a meme that just won't die,” as Johnathan M. Gitlin recently wrote in Nobel Intent. As Allen notes at the end of his Slate article,

The potential impact of the vaccine case Geier will testify in is huge. If the court finds that vaccines are guilty of triggering autism, it could order lifelong payments for the care of thousands of autistic children. This would bankrupt the vaccine-compensation program, created two decades ago to shield the drug industry from lawsuits while providing the parents of vaccine-damaged children with a no-fault means of payment. The compensation fund, which currently contains about $2.5 billion, is financed by a tax on pediatric vaccines. But concerns about potential liability already have helped drive the price of vaccines to levels that are making it hard for pediatricians to continue administering them.

The Geiers' “Lupron protocol” involves familiar procedures if you been following developments in biomedical treatments for the past decade (as we have been; we learned about the DAN! protocol from Bernard Rimland's Autism Research Institute just as Charlie was being diagnosed with autism). Children have to have elaborate testing done for various biomedical “abnormalities”; this usually requires the drawing of a great deal of blood. Allen notes that this can be “especially traumatic for autistic kids” and I can attest to this: The sweaty memory of two nurses attempting to draw blood from my then-five-year-old son who I tried (tried) to “hold down” in my lap lingers. After the testing, children receive “multiple injections” of (in the case of the Lupron protocol) Lupron and also oral doses of (for instance) a chelation medication.
Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver
I suppose more than a few of Slate‘s readers may be somewhat alarmed or even shocked to hear about the testing, injections, and administration of medications and/or supplements that are part of the Lupron protocol. I have to say, I was not: More and more, these are referred to as standard procedures for biomedical treatments for autistic children, treatments based on theories themselves—-but how would they stand up in court, or under scientific scrutiny?