Monday, February 16, 2009

Autism & Vaccinations: Where the Personal IS Political

The federal court ruled last week that there is insufficient evidence to prove the link between autism and childhood vaccinations. Specifically, the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. A victory for some, a crippling defeat for others, it is a ruling that, to me, is moot. Courts must rely solely on physical evidence to make their decisions; proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the MMR causes autism in some children is impossible. There are too many underlying and individual factors.

But that doesn't mean I believe there's no link between the MMR and autism. I do.

And before I go any further, let me be clear that I have no medical background or vested interest in taking one side or the other. I don't have an autistic child. Nor do I have a vaccinated child. I have healthy children who have never been vaccinated. And I researched the hell out of vaccinations before making the decision to forego that particular childhood tradition. This was back in 1992. I haven't stopped studying the topic since.

I think the decision to vaccinate one's children is personal. Parents have the right to choose either way, and then they must live with the consequences of that choice. What irritates me to no end is when a parent accepts vaccinations as mandatory and doesn't question their efficacy, safety, or logic. I mean, we're talking a child's life here...this decision is not along the lines of piercing ears or even circumcision; this is a decision which may involve injecting toxins directly into a healthy human body in an unnatural way. If a parent has thought this through, weighed the circumstances, and then makes the decision in favor of or against, she has done so (presumably) out of love for her child and the desire to keep that child healthy and safe. If, on the other hand, she allows her child to be vaccinated simply because it's what she's told to do, then I have no respect for that. I'm a firm believer in questioning authority when authority needs to be questioned.

I'm not writing this column because I think children shouldn't be vaccinated. I'm writing it because I think the time has come (is overdue, actually) to re-evaluate the role of vaccines. They were definitely a blessing when first introduced, as were labor unions and public schools. But times change and our social constructs and institutions must change if they are to remain valuable and effective.

The first cases of autism were diagnosed in 1943; all eleven diagnoses were among children who were born in the months after thimerosal, a form of mercury, was first added to infant vaccinations in 1931. Today, autism has reached epidemic proportions, and parents are advised to give their children more vaccines than ever before. Is it mere coincidence that the number of cases of diagnosed autism has drastically increased as the number of "required" childhood vaccines has risen? I can't imagine it is.

I made the choice not vaccinate based on research and instinct. As parents, we must trust that inner voice that alternately screams and whispers to us. I have been chastised by medical personnel (but not all of them) and scorned by other parents for my decision. Yet I have never regretted it. That doesn't mean I think it's the right choice for everyone. But it was right for me and my children.

I just want people to think. Think about their choices, their actions, their behavior. Too many folks seem to just go along with the norm and never stop to consider why it's the norm. I don't necessarily want you to agree with me. I just want you to know why you disagree.

For a thought-provoking expose on autism and vaccinations, check out this Rolling Stone article: . The level of integrity and investigative journalism is noteworthy, and regardless of which side of the fence you sit on for this issue, it will give you pause to ponder.