When I watch Jenny McCarthy on CNN or when I read the blogs (and comments) on autism, I keep wondering: What is this debate about? Yes, the parents of autistic kids are more "emotional" than the aloof doctors before them. But why are they met with anger, rather than compassion? If their concerns are heard, how does that harm other citizens? As a health journalist, and recent newcomer to this issue, I'm trying to understand the passion on the "pro-vaccination" side.
The underlying fear and anger towards these parents suggests that it's somehow heretical to question any proffering of scientific "proof" even when it squares off with experience--in this case, parents' tragic and oft repeated experience of watching hundreds of thousands of children immediately deteriorate upon vaccination.
As these two different and valid kinds of evidence collide, the collision should awaken the spirit of scientific inquiry. Instead it's viewed as a threat.
Leading material scientist, Rustum Roy, currently co-launching the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, maintains that throughout the history of science, most discoveries originate in similar circumstances, in the need to explain evidence not understood by current scientific theory. The dilemma of autism leads us to that threshold.
Over the last fifty plus years, what we have come to call health "science" developed as a research method to target single agents as angels or devils-- cures or causes. Pharmaceutical companies use reductive research to find and patent drugs. They typically pay the high costs of such research, but even when they don't, that research model prevails. Both the medical establishment and the general public assume that this narrow research model is the be-all and end-all of "science."
Unfortunately, there's much that this research focus fails to address. The totality of the human being, the complexity of human health factors, the wide range of health stressors, the multiplier effect when all of these variables interact, not to mention the biochemical individuality of each human being. Yes, each of us is unique.
Testing single vaccine ingredients to refute vaccinations as a major autism contributor is inconclusive, especially given the poor nature of the studies. Vaccines are not single agents.
Imagine consuming several different type of cocktails at once. Each cocktail contains multiple infectious agents, microbes, and metals acting together and creating new and unexamined synergies in interaction with each individual. Our research model doesn't assess those synergies or predict which individuals are vulnerable.
So when science repeatedly proffers findings that "No, it isn't this single agent," rather than proving that vaccinations don't precipitate autism, what's demonstrated are the limitations of the modern reductive research approach.
Falling outside this research model, the many real factors and variables are treated as non-existent because the study design cannot account for them. As a result, every single autistic child serves as a living human reminder that we need to account for individual differences, multiplier factors, and human complexity--and adjust our scientific model and attendant belief systems accordingly.
Without that kind of re-evaluation and readiness to explore where the human evidence leads, pediatricians will continue to draw a line in the sand as they did on the Larry King show, where they said (in effect): Your child's reaction is your problem.
With a near mandatory requirement and universal recommendation to vaccinate, shortfalls in the scientific model can result in tragic outcomes for individuals, not to mention financial burdens for which both government and industry refuse accountability. The New York Times recently reports that a current case in court could potentially provide drug manufacturers with a "legal shield," indemnifying them from financial accountability for harm from any drug, approved by the FDA, depositing their profits while those suffering harm from a drug are left to pay the piper.
Stay tuned as current and future generations of parents assess their risk tolerance in the lottery of vaccine and drug recommendations for which manufacturers disclaim responsibility. If the autistic children's parents' outcry turns out to be justified, thousands of future newborns yet to be vaccinated could soon join the ranks of "evidence.'
Like Jenny McCarthy, many parents with autistic children seek out treatment approaches that account for individuality and multiplier effects. Some report success in recovering autistic children. Yet according to parents, pediatricians often deny the cure, arguing that the child wasn't autistic to begin with.
Facing this dilemma with their doctors, the government, and the drug manufacturers, it's no wonder parents of the autistic don't sound calm. Their experience recalls the story about the woman who walked in on her husband in bed with another woman.
"Who are you going to believe?" he asked, "Me, or your lying eyes?"
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