Thursday, April 3, 2008

Man, Jenny McCarthy drives me nuts...

and not like she used to back in 1995.

I'm at the point now that I think she's doing a disservice to the autism community. Yesterday she was on CNN with three doctors for debate regarding vaccines and autism. (For those of you don't know, yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day. April is Autism Awareness Month.) While three doctors were calmly debating the relationship between vaccines and autism, she was freaking out, interrupting and talking about how vaccines contain mercury, aluminum, and ( I'm not sure about this one) antifreeze. She railed about when her son died. When Larry King questioned her about this, she said it was only for two minutes. (I guess her son has something in common now with Nikki Sixx and Dave Mustaine.) I think her main point is the following (slightly related to, but ten years than, the accompanying picture):

"In 1983, the vaccine schedule was 10. Ten vaccines given. Now, today, there are 36, and a lot of people don't know that. I do not believe that vaccines are the sole cause for autism. I do believe they are a trigger. There's something in the immune system that is weakened in these kids, they maybe can't process the vaccines. I don't think it's solely the vaccines. I think there's toxins in the environment, pesticides. It's kind of like a pile-up. If you can fill up a bucket of all this stuff going on with these kids, if they have a weak immune system, all that crap is going to overflow."

The main reason why she drives me crazy and I think she's doing a disservice is that she's pushing parents in a direction that leads them to pointing fingers rather than working with their children. I fear that her writings about how she cured autism to lead parents to scouring the Internet for the secret cure rather than spending time with their kids. I've seen too many parents get caught up on a diet which will supposedly cure autism but really only results in a child not eating what is put in front of them. If there was really a cure for autism, it wouldn’t be a pharmaceutical industry trade secret. It would be out there and available.

Second, I think Jenny McCarthy lacks a fundamental understanding the economics involved with making decisions. I'm not talking about the economics of the health-care industry and budgets and the like, but rather about the fact that every decision requires us to trade off costs and benefits. Although vaccines may be related to the increased incidence of autism, eliminating vaccines is not the alternative. While forgoing an MMR vaccination has the potential benefit of reducing the likelihood of the onset of autism, it also increases the likelihood of contracting mumps, measles, rubella (all of which can be fatal in small children). In turn, it increases the risk of an outbreak of these diseases.

That said, maybe Jenny McCarthy does understand these trade-offs and she did say in her CNN interview that she would rather her son have mumps and autism. I think this is kind of a crazy statement: I don't think I'd be capable of making any type a decision like that.

I think this autism debate just highlights another place in which individuals need understand some basic economics with regard to the fact that every decision we make, be it buying a house or deciding whether or not to vaccinate our children, involves trade-offs. Some of these trade-offs affect a small group of people; others that can affect a large group of people (as in the choice to forgo vaccines and risk an outbreak).

Note: My fundamental feeling on the issue is that there is a genetic component which determines your sensitivity to various compounds and chemicals, some of which are included in vaccines, some of which are included environment. Vaccines interact with these inherited sensitivities and sometimes results in the onset of autism. I don't mean to make light of the issue or the struggle that the parents of an autistic child face. I just think it's important to keep these trade-offs in mind.

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