Thursday, February 12, 2009

VICP Decisions are in...

When I became aware that the Vaccine Court (VICP) was to soon announce their decisions on the three test-cases for the Autism Omnibus Proceedings, I thought about what I might write - indeed if I might write - about the outcome. Having closely followed and carefully tried to understand the various expert positions and arguments, I felt quite certain that the petitioners had very little chance of establishing causation. At the same time, I anticipated a profound sense of sorrow for the thousands of families involved, families whom I feel have been preyed upon by a group of unethical, malfeasant physicians and alt-med practitioners. How could I express this feeling in a way that is respectful to the families involved without coming across with an "I told you so" posture?

Fortunately, I don't have to come up with anything, for Special Master Hastings wrote a poignant and powerful conclusion to his decision on the Cedillo portion of the AOP. The conclusion sums up perfectly how I feel about this dark chapter in autism's timeline.

The record of this case demonstrates plainly that Michelle Cedillo and her family have been though a tragic and painful ordeal. I had the opportunity, in the courtroom during the evidentiary hearing, to meet and to observe both of Michelle’s parents, and a number of other family members as well. I have also studied the records describing Michelle’s medical history, and the efforts of her family in caring for her. Based upon those experiences, I am deeply impressed by the very loving, caring, and courageous nature of the Cedillo family. Those family members clearly have done a wonderful job of coping with Michelle’s conditions, and in caring for her with great love. I admire them greatly for their dedication to Michelle’s welfare.

Nor do I doubt that Michelle’s parents and relatives are sincere in their belief that the MMR vaccine played a role in causing Michelle’s devastating disorders. Certainly, the mere fact that Michelle’s autistic symptoms first became evident to her family during the months after her MMR vaccination might make them wonder about a possible causal connection. Further, the Cedillos have read about physicians who profess to believe in a causal connection between the MMR vaccine and both autism and chronic gastrointestinal problems. They have visited at least one physician, Dr. Krigsman, who has explicitly opined that Michelle’s own chronic gastrointestinal symptoms are MMR-caused. And they have even been told that a medical laboratory has positively identified the presence of the persisting vaccine-strain measles virus in Michelle’s body, years after her vaccination. After studying the extensive evidence in this case for many months, I am convinced that the reports and advice given to the Cedillos by Dr. Krigsman and some other physicians, advising the Cedillos that there is a causal connection between Michelle’s MMR vaccination and her chronic conditions, have been very wrong. Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment. Nevertheless, I can understand why the Cedillos found such reports and advice to be believable under the circumstances. I conclude that the Cedillos filed this Program claim in good faith.

Thus, I feel deep sympathy and admiration for the Cedillo family. And I have no doubt that the families of countless other autistic children, families that cope every day with the tremendous challenges of caring for autistic children, are similarly deserving of sympathy and admiration. However, I must decide this case not on sentiment, but by analyzing the evidence. Congress designed the Program to compensate only the families of those individuals whose injuries or deaths can be linked causally, either by a Table Injury presumption or by a preponderance of causation-infact evidence, to a listed vaccination. In this case the evidence advanced by the petitioners has fallen 173 far short of demonstrating such a link. Accordingly, I conclude that the petitioners in this case are not entitled to a Program award on Michelle’s behalf.

/s/ George L. Hastings, Jr.