Plaintiff’s attorneys who sue corporations for a living are fond of saying that jurors must “send a message” to companies to get them to stop illegal or unethical behavior that costs lives. What kind of message would we have to send to the plaintiff’s bar to get the message across that their scare tactics against pediatric vaccines are killing children?
Plaintiff’s attorneys often cloak themselves in the mantle of “disinterested defenders” of the public weal whose activities are inevitably beneficial. They are often successful in this charade because mainstream media organizations rarely stop to challenge their claims or probe them more deeply. The impulse to side with the underdog in their struggle against monolithic corporations fits a public script that plays to the advantage of the plaintiff’s bar.
But it is a temptation that should be strenuously resisted. While corporate wrongdoing often has spectacular and immediate effects and front-page coverage, lawyers are hardly ever sanctioned in public and the indirect effects of lawsuit abuse are usually buried in abstract statistics about the cost of medical malpractice insurance or bankruptcies.
Some effects are more highly visible. During the last several years, for instance, attorneys have waged a legal campaign against vaccine manufacturers (racking up $200 million in company legal costs) alleging that a preservative formerly used in childhood vaccines (thimerosal) caused autism.
Despite repeated study by regulators and researchers in the U.S. and abroad, no evidence supporting this claim has ever come to light. But it has frightened many parents and led them to object to routine childhood vaccinations.
It's a situation Northern Virginia pediatrician James R. Baugh says he and his partners find themselves confronting with increasing regularity: A parent, usually a mother, refuses a scheduled immunization because she has read on the Internet that it could cause her baby to develop autism.
"My last patient just did it," said Baugh, who estimates he and his 11 partners each grapple with parents who refuse some or all immunizations about twice a month. Most recently, he said last week, the mother of a 2-month-old said she didn't want her daughter to receive the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella or any other immunization federal health officials recommend to protect children from childhood diseases, some of them fatal.
Baugh said that in this case he did what he usually does when a parent refuses shots. He referred the woman to a Web site maintained by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a source pediatricians regard as one of the most informative; reassured her that vaccines are safe; and reminded her that multiple studies by prestigious scientific groups have found no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Then he made a follow-up appointment, hoping the mother would change her mind. …
His equanimity in the face of what many pediatricians say are persistent myths that circulate on the Internet -- that mercury used as a preservative in childhood vaccines causes autism, that the dangers of immunizations far outweigh their benefits, and that there is a conspiracy by drug companies, doctors and vaccine makers to conceal the harm -- is not shared by other physicians. …
If this child, or any child, gets sick and dies as a result of not receiving needed vaccinations, who will the parents sue? The lawyers who launched the campaign? Or the pediatrician who didn’t browbeat them into getting the vaccination?