Bill Welsh: MMR ruling in Italy could rekindle autism debate here
READERS familiar with the arts will immediately recognise the name Federico Fellini, a filmmaker regarded as one of the most influential in 20th-century cinema. He was born in Rimini, a coastal town on Italy’s Adriatic coast, an area recently hit by earthquakes causing much damage and loss of life.
Fellini’s films were influenced by Jungian psychology resulting in cinematic works containing magical surrealist episodes. There was, however, nothing surreal about an event that took place in Rimini’s district court house recently. The court ruled that a child had become autistic as a direct result of an MMR vaccination.
The after-shocks emanating from this decision will already have reached the legal departments of some of the world’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies.
Some years ago in the UK almost 2,000 parents reported the same adverse outcome for their child – autism – following MMR, only to have their legal aid removed by the Legal Services Commission shortly before a court decision could be reached.
The presiding judge at the tribunal in 2007, Mr Justice Keith, emphasised that “it was the funding issues rather than the merits of the case, which had driven the decision not to allow the claims to proceed: it is not because the court thinks the claims have no merit”. He added: “Although this litigation has been going on for very many years, the question whether the claims have merit has never been addressed by the court.”
Over the following days, months and years the UK media – hand-fed by various public health bodies – insinuated that the parents had actually lost their case and that there were no grounds for further speculation on a connection between MMR vaccination and autism. The parents of the damaged children were soon to find out that their legitimate claims for compensation would be misrepresented ad nauseam until the very suggestion of an MMR/autism link became regarded in the public eye as preposterous.
A judgment in a small court room in Rimini may be the tipping point in what has been a lengthy and acrimonious debate.
• Bill Welsh is president of the Edinburgh-based Autism Treatment Trust.
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