By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.
When I was a young attorney I received a piece of advice from an older attorney which I’ve always remembered.
The attorney said, “Whenever you get a new case, begin by asking yourself, what information would I like to have which would convince a court to rule in my favor?”
As the conflict continues about vaccines and autism I think it’s worth considering what information has come to light in the past few weeks and how that information will play in the court of public opinion.
The online edition of TIME magazine this week had an article entitled “Case Study: Autism and Vaccines”. I normally cringe to read these articles because from my vantage point they usually get so much wrong. In the past I’ve rated articles, saying things like, “well, I agree with about 20% of what was said, but not the other 80%.” After that I’d usually bore the people around me with a point-by-point recitation of all the things they’d gotten wrong.
This time the numbers were reversed. I found myself nodding along as I read, saying, “Yes! Yes! They’re getting it!” A few choice passages, starting with the lead paragraph, will demonstrate my point.
“What happened to little, red-haired Hannah Poling is hardly unique in the world of autism. She had an uneventful birth; she seemed to be developing normally-smiling, babbling, engaging in imaginative play, speaking about 20 words by 19 months. And then, right after receiving a bunch of vaccines, she fell ill and it all stopped. Hannah, now 9, recovered from her acute illness but she lost her words, her eye contact and, in a manner of months, began exhibiting the repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal that typify autism. “Something happened after the vaccines, says her mom, Terry Poling, who is a registered nurse and an attorney. “She just deteriorated and never came back.”
Did I really just read that in TIME magazine, read by millions of people, rather than one of those autism blogs which are feared by mainstream medicine as if we were the face of the devil himself, but are lucky to get more than five thousand hits a day? You’ll forgive us if we feel a bit like Harry Potter in the final book of the series, with pictures of him blanketing the magical world and proclaiming him “Undesirable Number One!”
At least in the world of J. K. Rowling they give him a name. The press never names us, because if they did they’d at least have to consent to letting us appear and speak and people could judge for themselves.
Here are a few other gems from the TIME magazine article.
“Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the court’s decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink-a question mark-in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. One of the final paragraphs is a statement which shouldn’t be controversial, but when our community has said similar things we’ve been treated like we were primitives who wanted to take public health back to the nineteenth century.
“It’s difficult to draw any clear lessons from the case of Hannah Poling, other than the dire need for more research. One plausible conclusion is that pediatricians should avoid giving small children a large number of vaccines at once, even if they are thimerosal-free. Young children have an immature immune system that’s ill-equipped to handle an overload, says Dr. Judy Van de Water, an immunologist who works with Pessah at U. C. Davis. “Some vaccines, such as those aimed at viral infections, are designed to ramp up the immune system at warp speed,” she says. “They are designed to mimic the infection. So you can imagine getting nine at one time, how sick you could be.” In addition, she says, there’s some evidence, that children who develop autism may have immune systems that are particularly slow to mature.”
It’s stunning to read a paragraph like the one above in a major publication like TIME magazine when it’s been part of the catechism of our movement for years. It’s as if we’ve been secret believers in God in some totalitarian state and the ruler just announced he’s considering a conversion.
But the news gets even better. For years I’ve spent some of my time reading about a health problem I’ve always thought of being similar to autism, Gulf War Syndrome.
In the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein our soldiers were rushed to Saudi Arabia, given lots of vaccines in a short time period, along with other medicines designed to protect against the possibility of biological or chemical weapons being used against them. Like autism, Gulf War Syndrome is a controversial and complex malady, with symptoms ranging from fatigue, muscle or joint pain, and mood problems. About 200,000 veterans are believed to suffer from the problem.
The Los Angeles Times reported in a story on March 11, 2008 that “Gulf War Syndrome’s Chemical-Origin Theory Upheld.” I will reproduce a few key passages from the article.
“A review of medical studies on Gulf War Syndrome supports the theory that the still-hazy disorder was caused by a group of related chemical used around military facilities and anti-nerve-gas pills given to soldiers, according to a study released Monday . . . The group of chemicals, known as acetylcholinestrase inhibitors, has long been discussed as a possible cause of Gulf War Syndrome. The review “thoroughly, conclusively, shows that this class of chemicals actually are a cause of illness in Gulf War veterans,” said Dr. Beatrice Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego and author of the latest paper.”
So let’s make the comparison. A large number of people were given untested combinations of vaccines and chemicals which had never been examined for their synergistic interactions and many of them became sick with a disease whose cause was difficult to diagnose. Sounds kind of like autism to me. Did the article about Gulf War Syndrome provide any other information which might be helpful to the issue of autism?
A final quote from the article: “Golomb also noted several studies that found sick veterans were more likely to have an enzyme problem that lowered their ability to clear the chemicals from their bodies. Several studies have also found Gulf War syndrome-like symptoms in farm workers exposed to pesticides and victims of the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Japan. Some of the studies showed similar enzyme deficiencies.”
Okay, I think I’m getting it. Our soldiers weren’t “genetically destined” to get Gulf War Syndrome, but when they were exposed to certain chemicals many of them had an enzyme problem which made it difficult to clear the chemicals from their body and as a result they got Gulf War Syndrome.
Maybe my daughter wasn’t destined to get autism and seizures, but her body couldn’t bear the load of the increased vaccination schedule. If news reports like this keep coming out I’ll sound less like a crazy person, and more like the voice of reason. I wonder how it will feel to go from medical outlaw to wise sage.
And finally, this selection from the article "Vaccine Case - An Exception or a Precedent" from the CBS Evening News of March 6, 2008.
"While the Poling case is the first of its kind to become public, a CBS News investigation uncovered at least nine other cases as far back as 1990, where records show the court ordered the government compensated families whose children developed autism or autistic-like symptoms in children including toddlers who had been called "very smart" and "impressed" doctors with their "intelligence and curiousity" . . . until their vaccinations."
The CDC has stated that the case of Hannah Poling was a “singular event.”
Hannah Poling's problems were either a "singular event" or there have been others. Did CBS News get it wrong, or the CDC?
In the court of public opinion, in addition to the facts, it looks like we've got TIME magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and CBS News on our side. That's the kind of firepower my old boss could only have dreamed about.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.