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    With a Critical Eye

    October 29, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    Does anyone read the Wall Street Journal? We read it when my dad brings it over. Yesterday, he brought us the opinion page because it contained a small article, Vaccines and Autism, by Dr. Ari Brown. Dr. Brown is attempting to combat some of the ideas and assertions put forth by actress Jenny McCarthy in her book Louder Than Words. McCarthy’s son has been diagnosed with autism.

    I find it pertinent to mention that I have not read McCarthy’s book, nor do I plan to.

    However, I still enjoyed reading Dr. Brown’s article, and I thought I’d share with you my thoughts so far. If you want to click over and read it, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

    • Dr. Brown begins with an emotional appeal. Emotional appeals aren’t right or wrong in my opinion, though they are often substituted for fact. In short, Brown begins his article by telling the story of a patient he had that died from complications related to chicken pox. It was a gruesome tale, to be sure, and Dr. Brown uses it to prop up his opinion that this event {death by chickenpox} was preventable by vaccine.

      Now, I don’t want to argue that it is or isn’t preventable. {Though I will say that ever chickenpox outbreak we have been around in recent years has involved vaccinated children, anecdotal though that evidence may be.} Preventability really isn’t the point. The point, I think, is that Dr. Brown seems to think that his emotional story is more valid than McCarthy’s. McCarthy obviously thinks that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, and that he might not be autistic today if he hadn’t had the vaccine.

      Again, I don’t want to argue if this is true or not.

      What I want to ask is why it is okay for Brown to decide to vaccinate all his patients because of his horror in watching one little girl die, but it isn’t okay for McCarthy to refuse to vaccinate because of her horror in watching her son live an autistic life.

    • Dr. Brown makes an unverifiable assertion. While singing the praises of vaccines, Brown writes, “Vaccines are one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements. This year alone, they prevented 14 million infections, $40 billion in medical costs, and most important, 33,000 deaths.” My friends, Brown is not a fortune teller, he is a medical doctor. There is no way that he can know this.

      I have been studying disease and nutrition for quite a while now. I am in no way an expert. However, my understanding is that disease rates do not remain constant for long. Plagues tend to start out small, and then follow a bell curve, which means they reach a peak and then begin to decline. To assume that vaccines prevents x number of deaths every year {I know he says “this year” and not every year, but the fact is that this assumption has to be based on the data of past years}, seems to assume a constant rate of disease.

      There is no reason to assume that, for instance, Rubella, would have continued at the same rate it did in the 1960s. And there is no reason to believe that chickenpox will cause as many problems in 2020 as it did in the 1980s, regardless of vaccine inventions. Disease rates simply don’t remain constant, at least not at high, plague-like levels.

      This means that vaccines eventually begin to cost more than they are “saving” in medical expenses.

      Incidently, I think that McCarthy is guilty of the same assumption. I gather that she believes that avoiding vaccines would have avoided autism for thousands of children. This assumption is very similar to Brown’s.

    • Dr. Brown doesn’t tell the whole truth about mercury {thimerosal}. I’m not saying he’s lying. We all know these articles have limits on the number of words they can contain. However, I think it important to note that though the amount of mercury in vaccines was reduced or eliminated, there is still mercury in the flu vaccine. The AAP and CDC agreed to reduce the amounts in standard vaccines as a precautionary measure, and then began suggesting mercury-containing flu vaccines for the very young. Interesting.
    • Dr. Brown states that parents lie. He says, “A small but growing number of parents are even lying about their religious beliefs to avoid having their children vaccinated…” I have been hearing modified versions of this statement from doctors lately. Perhaps this came from recent research? However, the growing group of people that I know personally actually do have religious beliefs concerning vaccines. Real ones. It is simply that the CDC and AMA never told us that the majority of vaccines are made using material obtained from aborted fetal tissue. So though our religious convictions remained constant, we had vaccinated in ignorance.

      Now that the acceptance of vaccines has been used to, for instance, request Bush to loosen restrictions on stem cell research because they set a precedent for research that utilizes aborted fetuses, a lot of us are refusing to vaccinate. This is not a lie about religion, but simply a realization that religion applied to an area that we once thought was morally neutral. I’m not saying that some parents don’t lie. I’m saying that the “growing number” is not entirely lying parents.

      I also believe that the parents should not have to claim “religion” to have jurisdiction over their children’s lives. The doctor should be an advisor to the parent, not a dictator.

    Since the reason we do not vaccinate is a moral/ethical one, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of vaccines is really an incidental issue. It is one I enjoy studying, but it really is a side issue to those of us with real, moral/ethical concerns. With that said, my final note might be to note that all opinions, rather from a Hollywood socialite or a doctor with a bunch of letters after his name, should be scrutinized.

    In the instance of Dr. Brown, I think his best argument is a very specific one:

    Ms. McCarthy told Oprah that her son was a normal toddler until he received his Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine {at 15 months of age}. Soon after — boom — the soul is gone from his eyes. Yet she contradicts herself in her book: “My friends’ babies all cracked a smile way before Evan did . . . he was almost five months old.” Which is it? Was he normal until his MMR vaccine or were some of the signs missed before he got that shot?

    In this argument, he doesn’t make sweeping assumptions, he doesn’t quote “facts” that cannot possibly be known with certainty, he simply points out a contradiction in the evidence included in McCarthy’s sad tale.

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  • Reply babyjackbabysack October 31, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    The only experience I have had with the Amish comes from the pseudo-Amish Michael and Debi Pearl (To Train up a Child). They live in an Amish community and the examples they give of Amish parental discipline is enviable. They are simply always consistent with disciplining their little ones and subsequently have well-behaved, “seen and not heard” children that are pleasant to be around.

    On the other hand, it is hard to be around children who for starters, are not disciplined, and also who are not “grown” well. Like you said, the organic food coupled with hard labor leaves little room for strange new diseases. The rise of autism and ADHD have nutrition-based stems, I’m convinced. I have a girlfriend who used to teach and the single instance of a parent taking responsibility for her child’s condition was inspiring. The child had ADHD and the mother would get up early and run with the girl, make her a healthy, sugar-free breakfast each morning, send her with a home-cooked meal for lunch, and made sure the girl spent her recesses jumping rope or running. This was in lieu of medicine, and the teacher did not have a single problem with the child.

    That is kind of a tangent and I am not saying at all that if a parent does NOT “practice medicine without a license” that the parent is to blame for a child’s condition. It just seems that as a rule, pharmaceuticals are demanded and relied upon instead of a parent taking steps to battle the disease.

    Also, it would be just devastating as a parent to discover any disease or condition in my child. I am empathetic toward mothers in this situation. I just wish that those in medical power would seek to educate and inform rather than push brain- and mood-altering substances on children.

  • Reply Brandy October 31, 2007 at 6:20 pm


    Thank you so much for sharing all of your thoughts and research on this!

    I especially liked what you said about autism being another “disease of excess.” This is something Si and I were talking about the other night. A lot of people will point to the Amish (who have, from what I’ve read, one known case of autism) and say that it must be the vaccines because the Amish do not vaccinate. Our discussion centered on the idea that they also do not have electricity or motor cars. They grow their own (organic) food, prepare their own food, store their own food, using time-tested methods handed down for generations. They do not microwave! They spend hours doing hard, physical labor, and they spend hours leisurely fellowshipping with their neighbors. They are so completely other that I think we are hard pressed to find one single cause, like vaccines, from studying them. However, my belief is that it is the total package that protects them. Their life is opposite of excess, and this protects them from much more than autism.

    I love discussing these sorts of things…

  • Reply babyjackbabysack October 31, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Brandy!
    I have been concerned about the autism-vaccination link for years. I used to work with an autistic child whose mother was convinced his condition was caused by the MMR. I only know a little about Jenny McCarthy and her son, but I know that having a celebrity endorse anything (in a loose sense, I suppose) brings lots of press and concern. It really stinks for all the moms out there who aren’t rich and vocal. They have to deal with the same things McCarthy does. The mom I used to work for felt so hopeless because autism was still fairly misunderstood. I just wanted to share some of my research on the subject of diet-autism link.

    Apparently, children who get full-blown autism have early warning signs that are sometimes hard to pick up on because new moms aren’t sure what is developmentally normal.

    Many autistic children (the majority of autistics are male) already have rudimentary digestive problems. They may have “leaky gut syndrome” where nutrients are not absorbed by the intestine’s villi. The also may have celiac disease, which is similar to leaky gut. It is hard for the child to process starches and carbohydrates. Many of the children have yeast overgrowths (candida albicans) caused by excess antibiotic use or eating too much sugar. These factors all cause the child to not get nutrients from food like he should. His physiology is affected and he becomes sallow and mucousy.

    The gluten-free and sugar-free diet prescribed for autistics allow the villi and intestinal tract to heal so the child can get essential vitamins and minerals. Many autistics do very well on this diet and can begin to concentrate better. Their social functioning increases and they grow intellectually in a more age-appropriate manner.

    I personally believe that autism is a “disease of excess”. Our culture is in rapidly declining health. We cannot feed our children a steady diet of simple carbohydrates, sugar, processed foods, and antibiotics without a major health backlash. It makes me angry to see parents who refuse to arm themselves with information for the sake of their children’s health. There are such simple steps to take to preserve health God graciously blesses most children with (obviously not all). Ok, that is my 2 cents.

  • Reply Ellen October 30, 2007 at 3:50 am

    Thanks, that clarification helps a lot. I was going to be pretty shocked if there was actual fetal tissue in vaccines. =) I’ll have to check into these articles. Interesting.

  • Reply Brandy October 30, 2007 at 3:44 am


    I am so sorry! I forget that there are a lot of new readers around here lately. 🙂 I should have linked that post better if I was going to give so much opinion. Let’s see…I’ve written about this before, so let me give a list of posts that will explain the situation as well as I can.

    Before the list, though, let me explain that it isn’t accurate for me to say that aborted fetuses are in vaccines, or that vaccines are made from fetuses. I think the way the science community would word it is that the viruses are grown on or propogated using cell lines harvested from aborted fetal tissue. In the case of Rubella, the abortion was planned in such a way that a team of scientists here in the US was able to dissect and obtain the virus from a fetus known to be infected with rubella (because the mother was infected).

    Here is the list:

    Beyond ProLife: Vaccines

    Beyond ProLife: Vaccines Part II

    Children of God for Life (click “Vaccine Sources” in the sidebar for a quick-reference chart that is very handy if you are looking for ethical alternatives)

    Canadian Physicians for Life Vaccine Ethics Page

    Childhood Illnesses Up Close (this is a series I work on every now and then that examines some of the issues regarding specific illnesses that it is considered standard to vaccinate a child for)

  • Reply Ellen October 29, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Can you tell me more about this aborted fetus’ in vaccines thing? I have never heard this before, and I think many people haven’t.

  • Reply Brandy October 29, 2007 at 10:58 pm


    Ooh…I like your nice long comment!

    (1) I don’t know about the nasal mist. It would make sense to me that it is different simply because it is not injected. The CDC website simply said “some flu vaccines” without getting into the details. I am sure that if a patient knew which type of flu vaccine their doctor was offering, they could check the contents at an online pharmacy reference site and get the details.

    (2) I think you touched on a big issue in medicine, and that is that parents do not have full rights in this country when it comes to medicine. We have seen this in incidents like the Abraham Cherrix case where parents lost custody of their child because they disagreed with a doctor’s course of treatment. The same goes with vaccines. If parents are uncomfortable with what is in a vaccine and refuse to vaccinate, they are accused of “practicing medicine without a license.” I agree with you. Parents must be allowed to state their objections truthfully, and they must not have cause for fear. Right now, I would say there is a real cause for fear in some states.

    (3) I wasn’t even aware of McCarthy’s son until this article, so I must please ingorance here! However, the absence of hard data is discouraging. No one is helped if the argument hangs on emotion alone!

    (4) It is insteresting to me how many autistic kids seem to respond to the dairy-free/casein-free diet. I keep wondering why exactly this is.

  • Reply rebecca October 29, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    I tried to comment earlier and it disappeared, so I will try again.

    It was my understanding that thimerosal was eliminated from the flu vaccine that comes in the form of the nasal mist as well as the single dose vaccine. I read in an article that if you choose to vaccinate for flu, you should ask your doctor if he is using the mist, single dose shot, or the ten dose shot (ten dose contains mercury). Do you happen to know if this is correct information? I’ll have to admit that I didn’t pay close attention to the article since we are not getting the flu vaccine at our house.

    I also was reading that many states do not allow parents to cite philosophical reasons for choosing not to vaccinate and therefore parents who don’t want to vaccinate because of their concerns about what vaccines are made of are either choosing to state that they will not vaccinate for religious reasons or they are having their children vaccinated. In order to know why parents are not vaccinating, the CDC (or whoever makes these rules) must allow parents to truthfully state their objections to vaccines, otherwise data regarding vaccination rates is flawed.

    I did see JM on Oprah. I think she did a bit of a disservice to parents who want solid information about vaccines and autism. She certainly made an emotional appeal regarding the cause of her son’s autism, but there was no hard data. Then again, she is a mom and an entertainer, not a scientist. She did provide some information on diet changes that helped in her son’s case (if I recall correctly, she eliminated wheat and dairy from his diet).

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