A Statement from Thoughtful House Center for Children
NBC aired a special Dateline, “A Dose of Controversy,” on Sunday, August 30, 2009. All of us at Thoughtful House would like to thank NBC, Matt Lauer, Ami Schmitz, and the staff at Dateline for their hard work in relating a complicated story.
Autism is a challenging disorder that has been ignored and misunderstood for too long. Issues of causation and treatment are rarely discussed in depth for fear people won’t understand or pay attention long enough to learn something. This broadcast was the first time a network has taken the time to address some of these difficult questions, and attempted to deal with complex answers; answers that can be impossible to put into sound bites or easy black-and-white comments.
Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health and current member of the Institute of Medicine, provided an informed perspective by calling for more research to answer these questions. NBC features more of her interview, with great advice for parents, on their website (a link is provided on the Thoughtful House website).
We are aware of the time limitations in a news broadcast of this nature; inevitably, crucial questions go unanswered and important facts are omitted. Quick answers and segues leave questions open, and can even lead to misunderstanding.
Among the most crucial incorrect statements were that “(experts) have taken this study and blown it to bits…that despite studies showing otherwise…Dr. Wakefield insists autism and bowel disease are linked…” This is in fact not the case, and NBC was given the correct information in great detail. Five separate studies in five countries have confirmed the presence of a novel bowel disease in children with autism. Additional publications confirming these findings are in process. This hypothesis was the crux of the 1998 Lancet paper, as well as several subsequent publications by Dr. Wakefield.
Additionally, the Danish and Finnish studies that were referred to, with NBC stating that “much larger studies showed absolutely no link [to MMR]” were presented as if they had not garnered their own share of criticism and debate. In fact, these studies have been reviewed by other scientists in depth and found to be lacking. And as Dr. Healy points out, the number of children involved in these studies might not have been substantial enough to answer the question of a possible link.
Dr. Paul Offit (a frequent media spokesperson for the current vaccine schedule and champion of stopping research into vaccine safety and autism) was asked a relevant question about his conflict of interests. While finally acknowledging he has made millions and millions from the development of vaccinations, what Dr. Offit failed to disclose in his answer is that he has been a consultant for the pharmaceutical giant Merck, a manufacturer of the MMR vaccine. While serving as a consultant is not unusual or wrong, his failure to disclose this when answering a question about potential conflicts of interest is misleading in the extreme. He is actually guilty of the very thing that Dr. Wakefield has been accused of. (Note that Dr. Wakefield provided NBC with numerous documents proving he was innocent of this charge, and that he had declared any possible conflict of interest in a timely manner throughout the course of his career.) We certainly do not condone any threats or attacks against anyone, including Dr. Offit (we have been on the receiving end of these threats and accusations ourselves); however, we urge Dr. Offit to be prompt and thorough in disclosing his motives and conflicts.
As for Brian Deer, much has been written and said about his crusade against Dr. Wakefield. His lies, conflation of facts, and distortions of truth are documented and will continue to be revealed as more facts emerge. The biggest omission in the broadcast concerning Mr. Deer is the clear evidence that the entire General Medical Council investigation is based on a complaint he filed himself. A reporter creating the news is a story in itself, and one that will continue to be discussed as the GMC and the Press Complaints Commission in the UK review the facts at hand.
While we sympathize with pediatricians who must answer more questions from better-informed parents, we disagree with Mr. Lauer’s assessment that it is the pediatricians who “are dealing with the collateral damage.” We see mountains of collateral damage every day in our waiting rooms, our community, and our homes. Thoughtful House will not stop until we have the answers needed to help those who are already affected and are armed with the science to stop even one more child from facing the difficulties and pain that autism can present.
As Dr. Wakefield said in his NBC interview, the work of the many who work with Thoughtful House, through clinical practices and research, will continue. As the health and lives of children continue to improve and the research into causation and best courses of treatment moves forward, we remain committed to follow our mission of fighting for the recovery of children with autism and developmental disorders.
We hope this broadcast will open a productive dialogue on the challenges of autism and the treatment that will help them reach their fullest potential. The issue of vaccine safety must become a priority for those who have been tasked with protecting our children. We hope that science will prevail over profit and policy and that this research will be supported in order to answer these questions once and for all. All children deserve nothing less.
Director of Operations
Thoughtful House Center for Children