As the parent of an autistic child and as a scientist, I’m concerned that a meeting with an agenda not grounded in science will harm not only autistic people who have no voice in the proceedings but also general public health by again raising the specter of “vaccines cause autism” in the public consciousness. Given the stark evidence of how vaccines save lives, any hearing with a Congressional imprimatur should especially involve careful, science-based consideration of public health issues.
I also believe that support in the form of appropriate educational, employment, and therapeutic access for autistic people is important. The federal government devotes considerable resources to autism in the United States, including authorizing $1 billion for autism biomedical and treatment research in 2011. We also already have a federal committee to synthesize and publicize autism-related information and engage in strategic planning for addressing autism-related supports. Would more support be a boon to autistic people and their families, especially if it targeted existing needs? Yes. But I do not understand how a Congressional committee meeting not focused on those needs would suddenly generate any useful insights or practical effects in a hastily organized proceeding with invitees who don’t represent the entire spectrum of the autism community. Soon-to-retire Rep. Dan Burton, the man responsible for the ‘circus-like‘ vaccines-autism committee proceeding in 2000 that featured one Andrew J. Wakefield, remains on this Congressional committee. Given that in 2007, when the purported vaccines-autism link was already disintegrating, Burton argued that families of autistic children should be compensated for “vaccine injury” through the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, I don’t have terribly high hopes that science will be in attendance at this latest meeting, either.