As a mother of five children, two of whom have autism, I have read a great deal, spoken with many people and watched numerous hours over the last 27 years about parenting in general and about autism in particular.
One thing I have noticed is, the parents of children with autism often tend to seek answers. We look for a cause, an explanation for our child’s differences, a reason why our lives have taken a different turn to the one we may have imagined. It is a natural human reaction. A reason for our struggles gives us something to hold onto, and that gives us the illusion of control over a life that has been taken out of our hands. It also allows us to redirect the natural parental guilt (I must have done something to cause it) and channel that emotion elsewhere.
With a specific reason for a child’s autism, there is something to blame, something to which we can redirect our unnecessary and misplaced feelings of guilt, a cause to which we can attach ourselves, to fight against, to rage against. I believe this is the reason that the vaccination theory has taken hold with many people.
This year, the Tribeca Film Festival will show, at the request of one of its co-founders “Vaxxed-From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” a film by Andrew Wakefield. A key element of the documentary, the trailer claims, will be the testimony of a whistleblower from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US public health body, which is to allege fraud inside the organisation and that they “knew that vaccines were actually causing autism.” Wakefield then appears saying, about the MMR vaccine: “Wow, the CDC had known all along there was this MMR autism risk!”
Robert De Niro, the co-founder who requested it’s inclusion, and his wife, Grace Hightower, issued a statement on Friday, defending the screening. “Grace and I have a child with autism, and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca film festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming.
“However this is very personal to my family and me, and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening Vaxxed. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
I too believe it is important to openly discuss & examine the issues surrounding the causes of autism which is why I am so disappointed to see that Mr. Wakefield has made a film and is having it shown at such a prestigious film festival without more information about his background being openly discussed and examined.
For example, the fact that he & the hospital in which he conducted his original research were funded to the tune of over $1 million for the purpose of building a case against vaccine companies. Or maybe that when he was struck off as a medical doctor in 2010, a five-member statutory tribunal of the GMC (the British General Medical Council) found three dozen charges against Wakefield proved, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally-challenged children.
Or maybe he could have disclosed his patent for a rival vaccine and his business plans with the father of one of the 12 children in his research project, to launch “litigation driven testing” using testing kits he developed – a business that was projected to make him 43million dollars a year.
If the Tribeca Film Festival were to show a documentary about Mr. Wakefield that presented all of the facts and made no conclusion – I could see that as an attempt at dialogue. Or if Mr. Wakefield’s documentary was shown within the context of his previous actions and a documented tendency to exclude information that may cast doubt on his perspective – even then it would be acceptable.
To give a platform to “VAXXED,” a movie that appears to swap one flawed and dishonest body of ‘evidence’ for another in an attempt to prove a hypothesis that is apparently driven by financial greed is downright irresponsible.
Documentary makers should be impartial about their subject matter or entirely open about their personal biases, so their audience can watch a documentary in the knowledge that truth or a sincerely believed truth is being presented to them.
I would not expect Tribeca to screen a documentary demonstrating how ‘refridgerator parenting’ or child abuse might cause autism, despite the fact that this is still a widely held belief by some respectable professionals and I am deeply disappointed that they have chosen to show Vaxxed.