Jenny McCarthy, the anti-vaccine, give-your-Autistic-kids-any-treatment-no-matter-how-crazy activist is backing off some of her claims.
No, not because she's seen the light and realized that science might have more insight into these issues than she does. The real reason is so horrifying that it's difficult to put down in words. Her son may never have been autistic in the first place.
I emphasize the word "may." But in a long interview with Time magazine, the possibility emerges that she - or her doctors - misdiagnosed Evan. There's no question that at one time his autism was pronounced "conclusive." The article suggests that the passage of time may require a second look at this pronouncement.
Or is this the truth? There are dark murmurings from scientists and doctors asking, Was her son ever really autistic? Evan's symptoms — heavy seizures, followed by marked improvement once the seizures were brought under control — are similar to those of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare childhood neurological disorder that can also result in speech impairment and possible long-term neurological damage. Or, as other pediatricians have suggested, perhaps the miracle I have beheld is the quotidian miracle of childhood development: a delayed 2-year-old catching up by the time he is 7, a commonplace, routine occurrence, nothing more surprising than a short boy growing tall. It is enraging to the mother to hear that nothing was wrong with her boy — she held him during his seizures, saw his eyes roll up after he received his vaccines — and how can you say that she doesn't know what she knows?
The author of the article, Karl Taro Greenfeld, wrote Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir, an account of his family's struggle with autism. As the above sentence proves, he is completely sympathetic to family concerns and the feelings both of helplessness and the overpowering urge to do something. Yet he is also aware that doing something may lead to more harm than good.
Though close to 80% of American children receive the standard battery of vaccinations, skepticism about their safety remains widespread, in part because of the antiscientific clamor of the McCarthy camp. Enough parents are refusing to vaccinate that some long-dormant maladies, like measles and meningitis, have re-emerged. Nonvaccination rates among kindergartners in some California counties have been reported at 10%. To McCarthy's opponents, from the public-health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the pediatricians of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this makes McCarthy much worse than a crank: she's a menace to public health.
Yes, she is. That's the real pity. I'm sure every one of us has had the feeling that our doctors were not paying us close enough attention, not listening clearly to our concerns, not helping nearly enough. Jumping from there to a national campaign against a true cure, a campaign that has lead to the death of children from diseases we thought almost eradicated, cannot be excused. That McCarthy is backing off her rhetoric is too little, too late. She needs to bow out of the public eye entirely.
Science isn't always right, and too often it knows way too little. When it is right, mindless opposition kills people. Literally so. It's too high a price to pay.