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article imageLegal, Moral Issues in Autism-Vaccination Link Retraction

By Carol Forsloff     Feb 3, 2010 in Health
The foundation for personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits has to do with the infliction and nature of harm. What might occur in the courts in light of the Lancet Journal's retraction on the link between autism and vaccinations?
Digital Journal covered the story as it was breaking, of the retraction by The Lancet, a major British Journal, of what they now describe as a flawed study linking certain diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella and vaccines for these conditions with the development of autism.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield now sits at the center of controversy on this subject, and as some say the hot seat as well. To have a piece of research retracted like this is a blow to the journal and to him professionally. As has been pointed out in the media many times, many, many parents refused to vaccinate their children against certain childhood diseases like measles. In fact the vaccination rates in Great Britain have never recovered. New outbreaks of measles occur every year.
What isn't commonly known is that ten of Wakefield's 13 co-authors renounced the original study and its conclusion some years ago, according to Dr. Steven Novella's neurological blog. The Lancet has said previously it should not have published the research. Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who uncovered this study's faulty foundations, asserts in The Times Wakefield actually faked some of the data. But the announcement comes at a time when the lives of many children and their families have been affected. It is, as some say, an issue that affects people worldwide as diseases once thought to be ending have found resurgence as a result of parents' refusal to give children vaccines.
So what happens when someone makes a blunder like this? In many cases they can be sued. Personal injury according to legal experts, occurs when someone does something that causes another person provable harm. Folks like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey have been outspoken against vaccinations, even going on Larry King Live to tell people how risky vaccinations are and how they might cause autism. In the wake of this retraction will there be legal cases that result from parents suing people who have continued to denounce vaccines even as new research was presented that disputed Wakefield's original finding. The answer is unknown right now, but the potential for lawsuits remains, especially from parents whose children have been injured, as it has occurred for other medical problems when people have shown either culpability in an individual's development of a condition or negligent in responding to it well. The Omnibus Court threw out cases where parents had claimed vaccines had caused their children's autism . What might happen now the original study has been disproved?
In the case of Paul Offit, whose work has been disparaged and who has been vilified by many people for his opposition to those who believe vaccinations cause autism. If he can show harm to his practice as a result of disparaging remarks from information found not to be true, and to have been disproved before that, what recourse might he have?.
In the meantime it was as recent as January 29, 2010 that Generation Rescue made this statement in support of Dr. Andrew Wakefield:
Do you think pharmaceutical companies have too much influence in the laws, policies, and regulations of our government? We do.
Do you think pharmaceutical companies do things that most Americans would view as unethical to protect their profits? We do.
Their position raises questions, even as they continue with this:
The recent decision by the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom against Andy Wakefield shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands the stakes, profits, and reputations at risk in the debate over vaccines and autism.
The sole purpose of the GMC’s ruling this week is to try and quell the growing concern of parents that the expanding vaccine schedule and the remarkable rise in autism are correlated. The GMC will no doubt be helped by a press that barely understands the debate
Legal and moral questions are said to surround the decision as well as the harm that can come from unvaccinated children over their lifetimes. People involved in Generation Rescue continued their support of Wakefield even with a legal decision against him. Will they change their minds now because of The Lancet's retraction? Furthermore, as experts point out in these articles cited, parents may continue to believe the lie about vaccinations and the autism link now the truth is known. This might raise future questions about culpability of players involved, especially as more facts come out and reviewed by medical ethicists and the law.
In the meantime, some parents look at this whole issue as too involved in politics and someone posted a video response on an ireport link at CNN. This is evidence that many parents won't believe the retraction and will continue to assert some foundation for its earlier results, as this father of an autistic boy has done. That's what worries many experts that they say poses the ethical and legal questions involved.
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