Investigate This

Posted: Nov 27, 2005 12:05 AM

Oh goody.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor who’s been investigating the supposed outing of a CIA operative, plans to present evidence to another federal grand jury. “The investigation is continuing,” Fitzgerald announced, just weeks after most assumed it -- almost two years old and counting -- had finally ended.

This will be the second grand jury called to investigate whether or not Joe Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame was outed. In the long run, though, few Americans will care about -- or even be aware of -- the outcome of Fitzgerald’s probe (assuming it eventually ends). But as long as we’ve got a grand jury impaneled, let’s have it ask some questions about something that actually affects countless American lives. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 There are more questions than answers about autism. But unfortunately, it’s no longer unusual. In her new book about manners, author Lynne Truss writes that we’re living in “an age of social autism, in which people just can’t see the value of imagining their impact on others.”

Imagine reading that sentence two decades ago. In 1985, an estimated 4 in 10,000 children were diagnosed autistic. Most people went through life without meeting an autistic person. Autism then was similar to schistosomiasis -- even if you had heard of it, you probably didn’t know what the symptoms were. Today the Centers for Disease Control says as many as 1 of every 166 children is on the autism spectrum. Autism today is something that afflicts a son, nephew or cousin.
Everyone knows what it means to be “autistic.”

Still, the government seems stumped. “There are no effective means to prevent the disorder, no fully effective treatment and no cure,” the National Institute of Mental Health admitted in its February 2005 annual report on autism to Congress. And on its Web page, the CDC lists three things it is “doing about ASDs.” Two are studies tracking the number of children with autism in the Atlanta area and in Brick County, New Jersey. The third is funding various state projects. “These state projects look at how common ASDs are in children. Some of the projects also study what factors make it more likely that a child will have an ASD,” the CDC says.

Well, that’s a start, but a slow one.

Let’s use the grand jury to dispell some of the fog and ask some difficult questions. For example, in his book “Evidence of Harm” author David Kirby writes that thimerosal, a preservative long used in many vaccines, “never underwent any of the rigorous safety trials now required for FDA approval.” Thimerosal is 50 percent mercury, and mercury is a known toxin.

A grand jury could subpoena records to find out if the government (which approved thimerosal) or drug companies (which included the preservative in their vaccines) ever ran any tests to determine if it really was safe to inject it into infants. And if there were no such tests, perhaps a grand jury could find out why not.

This isn’t simply an academic exercise. While it’s been removed from most childhood inoculations, thimerosal remains in one vaccine: The flu shot we’ve heard so much about.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says flu shots are critical. “Since young children are at such high risk of getting the flu, the AAP recommends the flu vaccine regardless of whether it contains thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative,” the group says on its Web site. “To date, there is no scientific proof that mercury in vaccines caused autism despite years of study.” That’s true, but it’s also true that thimerosal has never been proven safe, either. Our grand jury could ask the AAP if medical standards have changed -- is it now all right to inject a substance that may be dangerous, as long as it hasn’t been proven dangerous?

The jurists might also want to hear from some experts who question the use of thimerosal. Michael Wagnitz is a senior chemist for the state of Wisconsin. He’s urging his state to stop giving thimerosal-containing flu shots. “Liquid waste needs to go to a hazardous site if it contains more than 200 ppb mercury. Is it really safe to inject people with a level of mercury 250 times higher than hazardous waste?” he asked in a recent letter republished by the UPI wire service’s “Age of Autism” column.

It’s said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Today our government spends time and money investigating whether or not a CIA officer’s name was leaked to a reporter. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children have descended into autism, with no apparent hope of a cure.

Wouldn’t it be grand if a simple grand jury investigation could help change that?