Sunday, June 10, 2007

Children with autism get day in court

Yahoo! News
WASHINGTON - In excruciating detail, an Arizona mother on Monday described severe autism and devastating health problems that plague her 12-year-old daughter and asked a court to find common childhood vaccines were the cause.

The test case is being closely watched by nearly 5,000 families of autistic children who have lodged similar claims for compensation from a federal fund.

The case of Michelle Cedillo, of Yuma, Ariz., is the first alleging a vaccine-autism link to be heard in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. It and eight other test cases are important because they will guide the handling of the other pending claims. Most contend that a mercury-rich preservative called thimerosal is to blame for the impaired social interaction typical of the disorder.

Should they prevail, the families will be eligible for compensation from a federal vaccine injury fund established by Congress to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines by shielding manufacturers from lawsuits. No autism claim has been paid from the fund thus far. ...

The burden of proof is easier than in a traditional court. Plaintiffs only have to prove that a link between autism and the shots is more likely than not, based on a preponderance of evidence. But many parents say their children's symptoms did not show up until after their children received the vaccines, required by many states for admission to school.

"These are families who followed the rules. These are families who brought children in for vaccines. These are families who immunized their children," Cedillo attorney Thomas Powers said. Later, outside court, he cast aside any suggestion his clients were anti-vaccine. ...

In 1999, the U.S. government asked vaccine manufacturers to eliminate or reduce the use of thimerosal in childhood vaccines to limit infant exposure to mercury. Today, the preservative is no longer found in routine childhood vaccines but is used in some flu shots.

I supported the legislation providing non-fault compensation for vaccine injuries (having worked on research-related injuries during my time with the President's Commission on Ethics in Medicine and Research in the early 1980s). The legislation requires proof of some causal relationship between vaccine and injury, but not proof of negligence. So far, to the best of my (somewhat outdated) knowledge, the science has not supported the thimerosal connection. There is some risk recognizing these claims would break the bank, and undermine the principle of non-fault compensation. I'm glad the claims will receive consideration and appropriate scrutiny. Whatever the outcome, we need some social mechanism for helping families to cope with the onerous burdens, financial and otherwise, of children with severe autism.

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