Friday, May 14, 2010

Vaccine/Autism Litigation - Stick A Fork In It

Rarely, if ever, have we come across litigation as socially detrimental and scientifically baseless as the claims, mostly centered in the Vaccine Court, that mercury-containing Thimerosal, or vaccines generally, cause autism.  We've commented on this litigation before, mostly in the context of "junk science."

Well, stick a fork in it, it's just about done.  Yesterday, the Federal Circuit affirmed the first of several decisions by Vaccine Court that firmly reject any link between childhood vaccines and autism.  Hazlehurst v. Secretary, HHS, No. 2009-5128, slip op. (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2010).


Interestingly enough, when push came to shove, even the plaintiffs ditched the claim that Thimerosal caused autism.  Slip op. at 2. ("in post-hearing briefing they relied on the theory that [claimant's] autism was caused by the MMR vaccine alone").  It says something about this causation theory when even the plaintiffs don't feel that it passes the red face test on appeal.

The phony causation opinions of Dr. Andrew Wakefield featured strongly in the opinion:
The special master found that Dr. Wakefield’s work had been largely discredited within the scientific community and that none of the studies indicating the presence of measles virus in autistic children had been successfully replicated by an accredited laboratory independent of Dr. Wakefield or Unigenetics.  In particular, the special master found that Dr. Wakefield’s early 1990s research on persistent measles infections was reviewed by the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom and found to lack important controls and sufficiently specific reagents for detecting measles virus.  She also found that Dr. Wakefield’s subsequent research was dismissed by the scientific community as methodologically unsound.  In that regard, she noted that 10 of 12 co-authors on Dr. Wakefield’s controversial 1998 article in the medical journal The Lancet subsequently retracted their support for the article’s conclusion that there is a potential causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Slip op. at 7.

An open and shut case of garbage in, garbage out, we'd say.  "Although not obligated to do so, the petitioners chose to introduce the [challenged] data and thus placed its validity squarely in issue. Fairness dictated that the government be given an opportunity to refute that critical evidence."  Slip op. at 11.

Good riddance:
Compensation under the Vaccine Act is limited to those individuals whose injuries or deaths can be linked causally, either by a Table Injury presumption or by a preponderance of “causation-in-fact” evidence, to a listed vaccine. The special master concluded that the Hazlehursts’ evidence failed to demonstrate the necessary causal link, and the petitioners have not identified any reversible error in the special master’s decision reaching that conclusion.
Slip op. at 19.

That's one down, two more to go.  Given the care with which the other two special masters rendered their similarly massive opinions in the test cases, we're cautiously optimistic that the same result will follow in the others - especially if those plaintiffs, unlike Hazlehurst, persist in offering up their Thimerosal Kool-aid opinions.
For more on the sordid history of vaccine-related autism claims in general, and on the strange career of Dr. Wakefield in particular, we highly recommend this excelent online BNA article.

And while we're at it, we'd also like to note that the "mercuries" also came up short recently in their attempt to sue the good guys into submission.  See Arthur v. Offit, 2010 WL 883745 (E.D. Va. March 10, 2010), holding that Dr. Paul Offit was perfectly within his rights to call them liars:
In this case, the article's quotation of Defendant Offit's comment that Plaintiff “lies” cannot reasonably be understood to suggest, as the Complaint alleges, that Plaintiff is “a person lacking honesty and integrity ... [who should be] shunned or excluded by those who seek information and opinion upon which to rely.” Rather, the context of the remark-in a lengthy article describing an emotional and highly charged debate about an important public issue over which Defendant Offit and Plaintiff have diametrically opposed views-plainly signals to readers that they should expect emphatic language on both sides and should accordingly understand that the magazine is merely reporting Defendant Offit's personal opinion of Ms. Arthur's views.


Arthur, 2010 WL 883745, at *5.

2 comments:

Rob said...

I believe that the new British government is going to be looking at laws surrounding this.

Dinah Bee Menil said...

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