On Thursday 28 January, the GMC hearing concerning Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues concluded, with a finding of guilty on several charges:
- that he acted unethically and against the interests of children in obtaining blood samples as controls at a birthday party
- that he failed to state that the children in the Lancet study were ‘part of a project to investigate a postulated new syndrome’, many of whom he had ‘actively recruited’
- that he also failed to disclose that he had applied for a patent on a single measles vaccine nine months before publication of the Lancet paper
Dr Wakefield vigorously rejects these allegations; whether they are true or not, or reasonable judgements on his behaviour or not, none of them has anything to do with the science of the 1998 Lancet paper – of which even the editor of the Lancet, Dr Richard Horton, said in the GMC hearing that it ’still stands’.
Despite this, almost every single journalist or pundit writing on this topic has referred to the possibility of an MMR-autism link raised in Dr Wakefield’s paper as ‘discredited’. In our view this is manifestly untrue, and is merely spin. Ironically, yet another paper confirming some of Dr Wakefield’s findings appeared only hours before the GMC ruling.
In 2008 the British Society for Ecological Medicine submitted a statement to the GMC on this matter, signed by many of our members, reproduced below. We see no reason to change a word of it now.
In reference to the current GMC hearing of charges against Dr Andrew Wakeﬁeld, we submit: Dr Wakeﬁeld has a legal right to be judged by his peers.
We, the undersigned, are doctors with expertise in the area of ecological medicine (embracing allergy, environmental and nutritional medicine), and therefore consider ourselves to be his peers.
We share his concerns over possible causal links between MMR and autism.
We further share his concerns that the incidence of autism is increasing, that it has an environmental cause, and the evidence is such that MMR vaccination may have a causal effect. It is our belief that, in response to his research and clinical evidence, he has behaved in a moral and honorable way, and, given the same circumstances, any one of us would have considered ourselves obliged to react in a similar fashion.
Our concerns are expanded in the attached editorial from the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.
The following text summarises the relevant section.
I have yet to hear an ‘expert’ on the radio who does not refer in disparaging terms to Dr Andrew Wakefield’s now famous paper in the Lancet linking autism to the MMR vaccine. Nor have I heard one who does not assert that the Madsen study on thimerosal use in Denmark proved once and for all that there was no link between MMR and autism. I have come to regard the Wakefield case as a shibboleth by which to judge pundits; their observations on the case and on Wakefield the man reveal their true colours.
Leaving aside the Madsen paper with all its faults, how can a doctor join in the persecution of a good man among his colleagues, whom they know to have acted honourably? They should watch the definitive artwork on this, Bertolucci’s 1970 film Il Conformista (‘The Conformist’).
1 At the time of writing, the GMC finding has not been formally published; we apologise for any consequent inaccuracies.
2 Krigsman A et al. Clinical Presentation and Histologic Findings at Ileocolonoscopy in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Chronic Gastrointestinal Symptoms. Autism Insights, 27 Jan 2010. http://www.la-press.com/autism-insights-journal-j155
3 Downing, D. Autism: are we entering the final straight? In memory of Bernard Rimland. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 16:3, 173 - 180 (reprints available from the Society)