A leading British “mother warrior” campaigner, who claimed that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is responsible for autism, fabricated accounts of injury to her son and persistently lied about his health, a London court has ruled.
The mother, “E”, who cannot be named so as to protect her son’s identity, concocted a story about how he reacted to an MMR shot at the age of 18 months. She said that he became distressed with fever and then lost speech, eye contact and play immediately following his three-in-one in January 1991.
She claimed that he screamed after immunization, and that this was followed by six hours of convulsions and vomiting, and then six months in a “persistent vegetative state”.
But in a landmark 45,000-word judgment, which entered the public domain from the Court of Protection last week, the mother was dismissed as a manipulative liar. It was found that she had made up the story so as to bring attention to herself and had plied her developmentally delayed son, "M", with a mass of sometimes bizarre "biomedical" interventions so as to gain "total control" over his life.
"The critical facts established in this case can be summarized as follows," said High Court judge Mr Justice Baker. "M has autistic spectrum disorder. There is no evidence that his autism was caused by the MMR vaccination. His parents' account of an adverse reaction to that vaccination is fabricated."
It has long been recognized that a substantial number of parents who claim that vaccines have injured their children are mistaken, confused, or for less benign reasons not telling the truth. But it is thought that the case of "E" is the first in which a judge has been so openly scornful of the parent of a disabled child, and may reflect a new attitude following the fall of British disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield.
In 1998, Wakefield launched what became known as the “MMR scare” in the United Kingdom, and was for years championed by tabloid newspapers suggesting that the shot, given routinely to almost all children, was responsible for an “epidemic” of autism.
Wakefield was later subjected to a forensic investigation by The Sunday Times and the UK’s Channel 4 Television network which revealed that he had undisclosed business interests, including a patent for his own purportedly “safer” measles vaccine, and was being secretly funded by trial attorneys, receiving the equivalent of more than three quarters of a million US dollars.
In 2010, the former bowel surgeon was banned from medicine after a three-year public inquiry by the UK General Medical Council found that his research was dishonest and his conduct towards autistic children unethical. The editors of BMJ, the British Medical Journal, later branded his pivotal work on MMR to be "an elaborate fraud".
Although Wakefield is believed to be incapable of personal embarrassment, the mother, “E”, was a leading disciple. She was part of an inner circle of campaigners, even entering her son in a speculative class action lawsuit against MMR manufacturers, evidently knowing that her case was untrue.
Another activist, who campaigned alongside "E", said that "E" was the last person one would imagine to have been lying about her story. She said that the mother was intelligent, calm in her presentation and wholly convincing. "If the judge had said to us, find a partner and work in pairs, she is who I would have chosen."
Medical records, investigated for the Court of Protection, found that, before learning of Wakefield, "M's" parents had blamed an earlier incident, at 10 months of age, for their son's developmental issues. There was no record of any alleged problem linked by the family to MMR for nine years after vaccination.
After contacting Wakefield in late 2000, the mother made up a raft of disorders and diagnoses, including so-called "autistic enterocolitis", which Wakefield claimed to have discovered as a new disease in children who had recieved MMR. Records showed, however, that even at the London hospital where the discovery was purportedly made, doctors found that the boy's only bowel trouble was constipation.
Mr Justice Baker said that “E” undoubtedly loved her son and was devoted to his care, but the court found that hers was a case of “factitious disorder imposed on others” – formerly known as Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy – and that care workers believed that, if challenged, she may be a risk to "M", who is now aged 24.
The judge said that he hoped a way could be found by which "E" and her husband “A” would collaborate with social workers over their son's care. “It will not be achieved, however, unless E and A – in particular, E – can demonstrate a fundamental change of attitude. If this does not happen, this court will have to take permanent steps to restrict their involvement in his life.”