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Legally Censoring Speech on Vaccines and Autism: A Response

In a recent guest column [in Jurist], Professors James G. Hodge, Jr. and Doug Campos-Outcalt explore ways to limit presidential candidates’ speech about a link between vaccines and autism. Noting recent comments by Trump, Carson and Paul associating vaccines and autism, the authors decry the politicians’ “free pass” to “spread such public health lies.” They even suggest that the candidates’ statements are the equivalent of yelling “gun fire” in a crowded theater and accuse them of being “brokers of public health fabrications.” Strong stuff! As the authors correctly note, however, the First Amendment offers little support for their proposed censorship.

As a threshold question, though, how do the authors know that the candidates’ underlying assertions are false? Has a vaccine-autism link been “debunked,” as they suggest? With the U.S. autism rate among children continuing to skyrocket, having climbed from 1 in 110 children in 2011 to an estimated 1 in 45 children today, the question is critical. Are those who make a connection between autism and vaccines yelling “fire” in a crowded theater? Or, alternatively, are those who seek to suppress free speech trying to restrict people from yelling “fire” in a theater when there is indeed a fire, thus escalating potential harm? Can we possibly hope to establish truth without robust public discourse? I for one do not think so. The U.S. embraces free speech more fully than any other country in the world precisely to ensure that the marketplace of ideas, and not government censors, ultimately decide what constitutes truth.

Enormous bodies of evidence, including federal statutes and case law, link vaccines to brain injury, including autism. Let us start with U.S. Vaccine Law 101: because federally recommended childhood vaccines carry risks of severe injury and death, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986, effectively shielding vaccine manufacturers and medical professionals from liability for vaccine-induced harm. Congress simultaneously created a compensation program in the Federal Court of Claims to pay out children for vaccine-induced injuries, including brain damage (encephalopathy) and death. To date, the compensation program has paid over $3.2 billion to 3,300 individuals for vaccine injuries and death. Since Congress granted industry and the medical profession a liability shield, the number of recommended childhood vaccine doses has approximately tripled.

Just what is the difference between cases of brain damage that the U.S. government has compensated as a vaccine injury and those of “autism” that the government has refused to compensate? Several co-authors and I asked that very question in 2011, publishing an article in the Pace Environmental Law Review, entitled “Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program” which finds that many compensated brain injury cases feature autism. The program compensated the cases for brain damage and seizures, but autism was present in a high percentage of cases. Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now a Vice President at Merck, Inc., acknowledged on CNN in discussing a federally-compensated case featuring autism that “… if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it [vaccination] can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.”

In plain English, Dr. Gerberding acknowledged that vaccines caused the child’s autism, as there is no meaningful distinction between “characteristics of autism” and autism, because the diagnosis is based solely on characteristic symptoms.

Another decision from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, Banks v. HHS, states the reality of vaccine-induced brain injury including autism more starkly: “Bailey’s ADEM [acute disseminated encephalomyelitis] was severe enough to cause lasting, residual damage, and retarded his developmental progress, which fits under the generalized heading of Pervasive Developmental Delay, or PDD. Additionally, this chain of causation was not too remote, but was rather a proximate sequence of cause and effect leading inexorably from vaccination to Pervasive Developmental Delay,” which is an autism spectrum disorder (italics added).

Why would we censor Presidential candidates who concur with what government officials and civil servants have already acknowledged? Why would we seek to deter politicians from discussing a national health disaster and its plausible causes?

The authors suggest that vaccine manufacturers should sue candidates for defamation if the candidates finger particular vaccines. Truth, however, is an absolute defense against defamation. The irony of the authors’ statement is that certain vaccine manufacturers already acknowledge a vaccine-autism link. Sanofi Pasteur’s product insert for its diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine Tripedia includes on page 11 that autism is a reported adverse event. GlaxoSmithKline, in a confidential 1271-page report on one of its infant vaccines disclosed in a European lawsuit that autism is a reported side effect of its hexavalent vaccine at page 626. Surely, defamation suits would be impossible to win if corporations themselves report plausible vaccine-autism links.

While the authors suggest that medical authorities, including the CDC, WHO and Institute of Medicine “disprove completely” any vaccine-autism link, they fail to discuss the recent admissions of Dr. William Thompson, a CDC lead scientist on vaccines and autism whose work has figured prominently in official rebuttals of a vaccine-autism link. Dr. Thompson has acknowledged, as published in a recent book, that CDC scientists intentionally manipulated and falsified data showing a powerful statistical link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism in African-American males. Dr. Thompson has requested that Congress issue a subpoena for him to testify. Congrssman Bill Posey has called for hearings on Thompson’s allegations, but so far, Congress has failed to act on this issue, as it has on so many others.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the authors would prefer to muzzle the vaccine-autism debate. By all appearances, they have staked major part of their careers on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, working closely with government on vaccines. Presumably, anything that suggests that childhood vaccines are less than completely safe and effective is unwelcome. Nevertheless, what we know from science, medicine, statutes, case law, corporate statements and tens of thousands of case histories is that vaccines are neither completely safe nor completely effective. We know indisputably that for some children, vaccines cause brain injury and that in some cases, the brain injury manifests symptoms called “autism.”

So, may the vaccine-autism debate rage on, at the Presidential level and elsewhere, until we know fully what has caused this unprecedented condition and until we have prevented its further rise. Then, let the debate die of its own accord, not because would-be censors attempt to silence it.

The First Amendment and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court, stand squarely behind free speech:

The constitutional right of free expression is … intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us… in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests. (internal citations omitted).

Note: This article was reprinted with the author’s permission. It was originally published by Jurist on December 11, 2015. Mary Holland is a Research Scholar and Director of the Graduate Lawyering Program at New York University School of Law.

9 Responses to Legally Censoring Speech on Vaccines and Autism: A Response

  1. chris Reply

    January 19, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Best of luck on this one. Even Wikipedia, though not surprising, condemned Dr Andrew Wakefield for his research with MMR vaccines. They didn’t allow any wiggle room in their inflated opinion of him.

    Personally, I can believe that by, say, 2040, every child born in America will be autistic. Guess what that means? I don’t think I have to explain,…..we’re doomed, and that’s THEIR plan. Bill Gates, anyone?

    • KWilliams Reply

      January 22, 2016 at 1:46 am

      Chris… When you say “even Wikipedia”.. Wikipedia has been completely taken over by Industry Shills on all topics.. by paid writers.. thousands of PR employees work for years to get admin status so they can block bad PR on all industries that want good PR. Here is an article of just some of the well known CEOs and politicians found paying people to control articles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict-of-interest_editing_on_Wikipedia

  2. Chris Reply

    January 19, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    It would help your cae about the Vaccine-Autism connection, by using the statement by William Thompson, PhD. It is posted at his lawyer’s site at:

    If you read that statement carefully, it will give you proof of a connection between Vacines (MMR) and Autism. and it is proof also that in 2004 the CDC covered up that they had the scientists (including Thompson) change their study that stated that black boys had a 3.4 greater chance of gettting Autism if they were vaccinated (MMR) BEFORE their 36 months were up.

    This is clear proof that there is the connection, and the ‘powers that be’ will fight it vigorously, which they have already done. There is a member of congress (Posey) that has tried to get this information in front of congress, but it is being held back becasue of the explosive nature of it, and the damsge to the CDC reputation.

    • Kierstin Reply

      April 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

      I have relied on that source as well, but it has been taken down. If anyone has a replacement link for the actual statement, it would be appreciated.

  3. Colorado Reply

    January 19, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    My vote would be on Barbara Loe Fisher, for a chief officer position at the Department of Health and Human services. I’d offer up a recommendation for a senior position at the CDC, except that’s one private institution which is inexorably unequivocally and irreversibly corrupted. / This article touches on the concept of ‘representative governance’. If you’re not absolutely familiar with what that means, you’d better get educated and do it quickly. “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” If you want to get representative governance back, you’ve got to join the movement to repeal ‘Citizens United’. “We the citizens, stand against Citizens United.”

  4. Paul Kramer Reply

    January 19, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    We have the best “government” PAC money can buy!!!

  5. Erwin Alber Reply

    January 20, 2016 at 12:20 am

    “Where money and power are is a magnet for criminals and so Washington D.C. has become a vortex of evil.”

    David Kennedy DDS

  6. Janice Healey Reply

    January 20, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    A friend’s grandchild was damaged by vaccine/s according her doctor, who confirmed this because of a DNA test that proved she should not be vaccinated. This test was taken after the damage was done. The waiting list for her case is 7 years! I guess that shows how many claims there are when it takes 7 years to get a claim to court.

  7. brad Reply

    January 21, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Don’t forget that as soon as Asia started vaccinating, their autism rates skyrocketed.

    As for the autism “link” it is biochemically dependent upon the vaccine damaged person’s immune system. Therefore the correct term would be “association”.

    Dr Thompson from the CDC has brought forth the emails from the (then) head of the CDC telling the scientists to bury the data about the increase in autism. This was from the 2004 Atlanta MMR study in which a 240% increase in autism in black infants age 36 months and less.

    This also ignores that among the hundreds of PAID AWARDS to people proven to have been damaged by vaccines and having neurological damages – in 81 of those cases, the courts awarded $$$ for neurological damages INCLUDING AUTISM – obviously, and legally proven to be caused by the vaccine, or it wouldn’t have been paid.

    So – don’t give me any garbage about censorship regarding autism – you are ignorant fools, i’ll slap you effete lawyer types silly in this metaphorical manner. Get some brains you lawyer types – and steal my free speech? Hope someone beats the tar out of you. Don’t mess with our freedom you despicable toad brains.

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