So I got an email from a friend alerting me to yesterday’s episode of the ABC show “Private Practice”. Apparently, the autism community was up in arms about an incident on the show.
I’m embarrassed to say I record the show, so I decided to watch it.
What followed left my jaw on the floor. The story arc goes something like this – A mother with 3 children brings her kids to the clinic since the middle one has a high fever. Turns out the kid has measles. The mother has not had the child vaccinated because the older one exhibited autistic behavior and was diagnosed with autism shortly after receiving a set of vaccines.
That was not the shocker. What was horrifying was that the child with measles develops awful complications and dies( in speeded up television time) and the doctor, traumatised by the death of the child, forcibly vaccinates the remaining child. “I am going to sue you,” screams the distraught mother. Viewers with experience of autism must have felt the same sentiment towards the producers of “Private Practice” and ABC.
The show was wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin. Let me share some personal history first. At the age of 4 my son, who had eczema since birth, was showing some signs of improvement. A visit to the doctor and multiple vaccines later, his eczema worsened severely to the point that at the age of 12, he still struggles with it on a daily basis. So you might say that I have some sympathy with parents of autistic children who see some correlation between vaccines and a sudden deterioration in their child. I have at least 2 close friends who swear the experience happened to them – overnight appearance of symptoms of autism and loss of verbal ability. Both have eschewed vaccines since then.
So let’s take the show’s many egregiously inappropriate elements and discuss them –
– The doctors sit in a round table and wonder if the mother should be reported to Family Services: Considering this show is set in Los Angeles, I wonder if the producers are aware that parents in California are allowed to take a religious exemption if they chose not to vaccinate their child. I chose to do so for my second born, who is six and has happily avoided all childhood illnesses except chickenpox, which I was happy for her to have.( We’ll get to the wisdom of parental choice in this matter later..suffice to say that the law as it stands, allows it.)
– The child dies horribly from complications from measles: The death scene is particularly gory, a purely fear-mongering tactic. The actual statistics of death from measles? 1 death in the US in 2001. You might argue that this is because 92% of the population is vaccinated and you would be right. However, by the same logic if one particular parent chose to not vaccinate her child because of his/her unique circumstances and experience, she is hardly putting the other children at risk. After all, shouldn’t the other child’s vaccinations keep it safe?
– The doctor takes matters into his own hands and vaccinates the remaining child: This is cowboy medicine at its worst. First we have doctors refusing abortions because of their religious principles. Then we have parents advocating for the prolonged life-support of a comatose daughter( who can forget Terri Schaevo) and now we have a doctor clearly overriding the wishes of the parent. Forget about the ethical issues – this is not the forum for them – but whatever happened to rule of law? You don’t like the laws about a certain subject? Work with your representatives to change it. You don’t get to play God.
What would be deeply satisfying to me and other outraged parents would be if the mother actually went ahead and sued the pants off the pediatrician in question and as a result the clinic had to declare bankruptcy and shut down. How’s that for a storyline Ms. Rhimes?
It is really unfortunate that a popular show should promote such behavior. As it is parents are uncomfortable making such a difficult choice for their child. I remember when the pediatrician came to see me at the hospital following the birth of my daughter 6 years ago. I was in a Motrin induced haze, but I still had the clarity to hold off on my baby’s shots( how smart is it to inoculate newborns anyway?) till I could think about it and make an informed decision. Just a hint that I might not completely vaccinate my child and I was subjected to a 15-minute harangue from the doctor which made me feel small and stupid. Now parents are going to be more cowed than ever, thanks to this irresponsible show.
I grew up in India with some basic vaccinations like DPT, polio and smallpox and survived. This may have been partly due to luck and partly due to the fact that my parents were good caregivers and would have immediately taken me to the doctor if I was sick. Yes kids do die in developing countries from childhood illnesses but this is as much due to the lack of immediate care as it is the disease itself. And I come back to the rule of law – if the law gives me the right to choose to not vaccinate my child – back off!
On my part I have taken off the show from my list to watch. If you want to call ABC and protest here’s some general information
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4551
This is the advice I have offered ( as one parent to another) to friends who have wondered what to do about their child’s vaccinations –
– Educate yourself about each vaccine, the risk of the disease it is supposed to prevent, how well it protects against it and its side effects.
-If your family has a history of chronic conditions that are related to the immune system, proceed cautiously.
-The newer the vaccine, the warier you should be.
-If you want your child’s vaccinations to be full and up-to-date, space the vaccinations so that your child does not get more than one vaccine at a time. Beware of combination vaccines. It is in your doctor’s interest to get it all out of the way at once – stand your ground and insist on separating the vaccines and returning to the clinic month after month. The downside is that your child will come to associate going to the doctor with getting a shot and that is not pleasant. The upside is that you will avoid overloading the immune system. Worth it, don’t you think?