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ABC drama addresses autism and vaccination

By Haley January Eckels     Jan 29, 2008 in Health
The American Academy of Pediatrics is demanding that ABC cancel the pilot episode of the drama Eli Stone. The show depicts a lawyer successfully arguing in court that autism is caused by vaccination, a myth that the AAP says is "reckless."
“A television show that perpetuates the myth that vaccines cause autism is the height of reckless irresponsibility on the part of ABC and its parent company, The Walt Disney Co.,” said Renee R. Jenkins, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP in a press release on Monday. The pediatricians worry that the episode will discourage parents from vaccinating their children.
The first episode of Eli Stone is set to air on Thursday. While the show does include statements that autism and vaccination are not linked, the mother of an autistic child is awarded a large settlement when a jury hears that the maker of a vaccine did not allow his own child to get the shot. Thus far, ABC has not released an official statement, though co-creator Greg Berlanti told that "we would be deeply upset" if Eli Stone negatively impacted parents' decision to immunize their children.
Autism is a brain disorder which affects the social and communication skills of those who suffer from it. It is estimated that 1 in 150 children has autism, and it is typically a lifelong problem. Sufferers generally have trouble relating to others, and signs of the disease include a lack or loss of speech, failure to return facial gestures such as smiles or frowns, and repetitive compulsions.
According to advocacy organization Autism Speaks, there is no definitive link between autism and vaccination. As their website points out, Still, the accusations continue, largely from parents of children on the [autism] spectrum, and it's easy to understand why: There are still no answers to this day about what's causing a disorder that appears to steadily be expanding its reach.
Parents of autistic children are looking for answers as to what causes the disorder, and scientists around the country have so far provided no answers. Shows like ABC's Eli Stone could give desperate parents inaccurate and damaging information. As Dr. Jenkins argues in the AAP statement:
If parents watch this program and choose to deny their children immunizations, ABC will share in the responsibility for the suffering and deaths that occur as a result. The consequences of a decline in immunization rates could be devastating to the health of our nation’s children.Vaccine popularity has suffered in recent years in the UK, after a 1998 scientific paper suggested a relationship between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism. The planned episode of Eli Stone, while hardly a credible scientific source, could have similar consequences in the U.S.
The AAP statement notes that, "Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influences their decisions about health care."
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