Cowboy doctors: "Private Practice" takes on vaccinations vs. autism

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 Рif the law gives me the right to choose to not vaccinate my child Рback 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

ABC, Inc.
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4551
(818) 460-747

To find your local station, go here and click on the map. Another contact page can be found here.

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?

7 thoughts on “Cowboy doctors: "Private Practice" takes on vaccinations vs. autism

  1. Nandini Minocha

    Great Article, exactly what I would want to say but you put it down so much better than me. With your permission I’d like to post this around all the yahoo groups I belong to of parents critical of vaccinations. My son too regressed after 2 when he got his MMR shot, he was in the hospital with acute reaction to the MMR & was never the same. Before we vaccinate we need to understand the risks. The odds of your child getting autism today are 1 in 150, when will people see the nexus between Big Pharma, FDA, CDC , Drs & now we see mainstream media as well.


  2. Zain's Baba

    Thanks for the article. Its amazing and I wonder what’s going to wake them up? Maybe a ratio that’s more like 1 in 25 ? Its not just the vaccine issue that scares me, its the “attitude” which can lead to catastrophe..


  3. SoonerTexan

    So I just thought of this:

    I love that Sam so easily spouts the whole “CDC doesn’t think vaccinations are dangerous line” like he’s researched it and everything…

    Then, when an inspector ( I wasn’t sure if it was CDC or not, I don’t remember, but she was some sort of regulatory health professional) comes to inspect them, he gets his panties in a twist.

    He’s “up to code” in how vaccinations are evil, but apparently not in anything else the CDC has to offer! He doesn’t even have the dang book, so how is he so knowledgeable ?

    And then we find out the CDC inspector’s real concern was getting in Sam’s pants–love it! Cant they at least be somewhat consistent?

    I’m not sure I’m totally against vaccinations, but this episode was WAY one sided. At least be consistent and fair.

    The mother was wrong about one thing–Cooper’s action wasn’t assault. It was BATTERY under the law, and she could probably sue him for Intentional Infliction of Emotional distress as well–but I’m sure they wont address that in an episode, or at least not fairly.


  4. Vidya Pradhan Post author

    Totally agree with Sooner Texan – it was one of a couple of afterthoughts I had. The other was that the casting of the mother just tilted against the arguments she was making. The lady who acted as the mother was last seen in a recurring role on Judging Amy where she was a batty paralegal. Say they had cast a strong, assertive,popular and pretty actress as the mother – I bet it would have totally changed the tone of the episode.


  5. Mommyoftwo

    Well, I think that the show was a wake up for me…I had refused the MMR for my son (12 month old), after watching the show I thought…I would rather have my son with any problems than not have him at all…Now I am rethinking the vaccines. Sometimes you just have to get hit in the face to see the what you should do. The thought of my son dying because I didn’t get him the vaccine, really hit me hard. I understand what everyone else is saying also…this is really scary!! Now I am just praying that I do the right thing!!


  6. Deirdre Bennett

    Its not just the CDC studies or the vaccine promoters that have produced evidence clearly disproving any link between vaccinations and autism (or any of the PDD/spectrum disorders). The more likely link is between genetics, age, and amount of testosterone present during in vitro. But, there will always be those that grasp at straws. I have one child with Asperger’s Syndrome (or HFAS if you prefer). I’d rather have him as is than dead from something that’s preventable. None of the childhood diseases are pleasant; and all of them can be deadly. The number of reported cases of kiddos with childhood diseases is increasing; largely because a lot of parents are choosing not to vaccinate (which permits the virus to continue and then mutate). Which is worse, really? Kiddos with a a few developmental issues or kiddos in a cofifn? Harsh? Sure. But, that’s reality.


  7. Nandini Minocha

    I think the key thing to look at, was the story as shown on Pvt practise plausible ? Please note what the author of this article mentioned. Last reported death from measles was in 2001. It is not such a dangerous disease that we risk full blown autism & I’m talking not about a few development issues here. We all had measles growing up , a few days of illness & you recover just fine, similar to the flu, which again we never got vaccinated for. I think the issue is that our kids get as many as 24 shots in the 1st two years of their lives. I think the scientific community should find markers/ predictors to see which kids will have adverse reactions to the shots. This does not have to be a black & white issue, we really shouldn’t have to be for or against it. There should be shades of grey allowed. And as another parent on the ABC boards said kids die from vaccines too, there are many cases of proven death & injury from vaccines. This is a very complicated issue & parents need to educate themselves. Shows like private practise that sensationalize the issue are not helping here. I wouldn’t base my decision on whether to vaccinate my child on this show.



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