Medical authorities, as you may have noticed, don’t like to be challenged. The fact that they have been so wrong, so often, so long and so recently does not in the least change their view of the matter. They are angry you would even bring it up! They may have advertised the throat-soothing properties of filter cigarettes, bled patients dry (probably killing the father of our country) and pushed stupid stuff from Viagra to thalidomide to the first deadly rotavirus vaccine because their phrat brothers told them to. But no matter. This time, and forever after, they are exactly, completely, unchallengeably, unconflictedly right.
As Mark Blaxill and I pointed out in our book The Age of Autism, this long history of bad medicine is blithely subsumed -- submerged and suppressed might be better words -- under the medical “march of progress” – as in, OK, getting syphilis patients to drink mercuric chloride may have been misguided, but it was the best practice at the time (even if it did cause the worst form of the disease, general paralysis of the insane, but let’s not dwell on that), and after a few hundred years of that they accidentally came across penicillin, which did cure it, so why are we even bringing this up? And Freud was wrong about hysteria, which got psychiatry off to a catastrophic start (hysteria was actually caused by mercury poisoning), but now the "experts" really do understand the human psyche, so get off their case already! Take two Seroquel and don’t call us in the morning.
I’m bringing this up because realizing how badly and self-righteously medicine has behaved ought to make parents far more cautious than most of them are (although the numbers are growing) about the proven, study-after-study-vouched-for-safety of the current vaccination schedule. This is not just "presentism" -- judging history by the impossibly high standard of what we have learned since then. The medical establishment really messed up with impunity for most of its long history and a lot of people suffered and died for it. Until at least germ theory came along, people would have been much better off with homeopathy, whether it worked or not, because at least it did no harm.
This month my mind is on a very topical example of medical arrogance and iatrogenic harm, the idea that homosexuals were sick, needed to be treated, condemned or just locked away in jail (or, in Iran, killed, and in Russia, bullied and beaten). June is gay pride month, timed to the Stonewall riots that triggered the gay rights movement. And this month may be the most historic and decisive ever, as the Supreme Court rules on gay marriage rights.
We’ve come a long way, baby. Just this week the New York Times – where medical “experts” still reign on all things vaccination – looked back at its own often-sordid history of treating homosexuality as an evil disease. The headline from 1964 (when I turned 12): “Homosexuals Proud of Deviancy, Medical Academy Study Finds.” It would be a medical academy, wouldn't it? And it would be The Times, wouldn't it!
As David W. Dunlop wrote this week: “There it was, to shock anyone whose eye fell on the front page of The Times: news that homosexuals had ‘gone beyond the plane of defensiveness and now argue that their deviancy is ‘a desirable, noble, preferable way of life.’ ” According to the original article, medicine was not going to let the homosexuals get away with having a decent life:
“The report is the first recognized study of homosexuality by a recognized organization representing all branches of medicine, a spokesman for the committee said” – the Committee on Public Health of the New York Academy of Medicine. Homosexuality, the story went on, “is an ‘illness’ that can be treated ‘in some cases’ but is more easily dealt with by early preventative measures, the report concludes.” Maybe a vaccine?
It’s amazing how this “first recognized study" by a "recognized organization" to which "all branches of medicine" lent their reputations, reported obsequiously in The Times, was in a few short years inoperative, to use the Watergate term. By 1973 psychiatrists removed it as a disorder from the DSM of its day. Just nine years later! Of course, in the meantime the deviants had stood up and given as good as they got in the Stonewall riots of 1969.
Fellow AOA editor Dan Burns and I discussed this topic of modern medicine as a public health menace to both healthy sexuality and healthy kids in a 2010 Dallas newspaper blog interview (the whole blogging platform has since been taken down):
“BURNS: How does your perspective as a gay man contribute to your work?
“OLMSTED: Psychiatry has caused great harm to gay people by its view, held for decades, that homosexuality was an illness and needed to be treated, overcome, or changed. It was clear to me from personal experience that that’s a mistaken idea. So I knew that psychiatry and medicine could be both fundamentally wrong and arrogantly sure of themselves at the same time.
“Another thing is that the majority opinion can be wrong, too. For a long time in this country gay people were ostracized and seen to be unfit for everything from government work to the military to having families. That’s changed; it is changing; it needs to change more. But I know for a fact that experts and consensus can be horribly mistaken on issues that are very important to all of us, so I have no trouble believing that they could be wrong about what’s causing autism too.”
Not long afterwards, I was at a dinner and sat next to Frank Kameny, a real hero of the gay rights movement who was fired from the federal government in the 1950s as a security risk (he was an astronomer and a World War II vet, for crying out loud!). I mentioned how awful such coverage must have been to endure. I had in mind in particular a piece Mike Wallace had done at CBS around the same time with many of the same disease/disorder/deviant tropes.
“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous,” Wallace states in the 1967 report. “He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. [Editor’s note: I’ve been together with my partner 29 years next month and married since the Supreme Court threw out DOMA two years ago. Talk about the last laugh -- as Nelson would say on The Simpsons: HA-ha!] “His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits, and even the streets of the city – the quick one night stand. These are characteristic of the homosexual relationship.”
To my surprise, Frank wasn’t bitter about it. He was, in fact, grateful. “That was the best publicity we could ever have,” Frank told me. “People were talking about us.” (I took the photo above, with an early protest sign, at his memorial service.)
I hate to tell you this, fellow vaccine safety advocates (or maybe I don't), but we are the deviants of our day. Medical experts pity us on the one hand for our ignorance in deviating from medical orthodoxy and warn against our agenda on the other – infecting others with our sick beliefs. There’s even the battle over what the medical types call nosology – what is the name of this “disorder”? They’ve settled on anti-vaccine, which is to say, deviant.
But more and more, people are standing up.
This brings me to Ginger Taylor’s wonderful piece. “Thank You, Dr. Richard Pan and Friends of SB 277," the bill passed in the California Assembly Health Committee this week that restricts parents' rights to seek vaccine exemptions for their children. The gist is the same as what Frank Kameny said to me. Ginger writes:
“For years and even decades a small group of us have been slaving away, day after day, to get the word out that the vaccine program is now a huge problem and that our kids have been victims of ‘the greater good.’ For years we have been calling out from the bottom of the large chasm that we have fallen into for others not to come this way, to stay of the dangerous path that we didn't know better than to follow. But it has been hard work as we have so few resources and become so removed from the mainstream because of our children's vaccine injuries, so only those very close to us could hear our cries.
“But this year, you [Dr. Pan and other SB 277 backers] came through for us. Not since Evan McCarthy and Hannah Poling have we had such a huge advancement in our work and progress in getting out our message. Because you have made such boldly corrupt moves, and told such bold face lies, and made the most absurd arguments, we now have families in all parts of the American experience coming out of the woodwork to join us! And they have megaphones that we didn't have! …
“And today I just heard a mom with a perfectly healthy child tell the California Legislature, with a big loud megaphone, in front of at least a thousand other moms, ‘We are awake now, and we are never going back.’
“And I cried.”
The issues in every movement for social change are different, and I’m not equating the fight for gay rights and vaccine safety advocacy, just noting that both have had to battle the overweening arrogance of medical orthodoxy, stand up for themselves, and tell the truth. And that after a lot of abuse and torrents of orthodoxy spewed by smug idiots, the tide can turn quickly. Pan and his pals in the medical industry around the country, and indeed the world, may be provoking the Stonewall moment of vaccine injury denialism.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.