There are sound scientific reasons for refusing legal aid to anti-MMR campaigners, but it may help the junk science cause.
Campaigners have shelved plans for legal action over the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, after failing to overturn a decision to deny them legal aid (1). The cases of 1000 children who developed medical problems after receiving the jab were due to be heard at the High Court in April 2004.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) said that there was no conclusive link between MMR and autism, and that the legal action against drug companies stood little chance of success. £15million of public money had already been invested in the families’ case; it would be wrong to spend a further £10million.
The decision to deny aid was based on clear-headed reasoning. Its effect, unfortunately, could be to further cloud the MMR debate. Refusing anti-MMR campaigners legal aid may actually help their cause, by fuelling suspicions that the authorities are trying to hide evidence from parents.
The LSC was right about the facts. The organisation carried out a thorough review of existing medical evidence, that will now be handed over to the Medical Research Council. The chief executive of the LSC, Clare Dodgson said: ‘[The claimants’] children are clearly ill and they genuinely believe the MMR vaccine caused their illnesses. However, this litigation is very unlikely to prove their suspicions.’
The decision to refuse legal aid won’t, as the Department of Health (DoH) hoped, ‘draw a line’ under the MMR issue. Instead, it will reinforce suspicions of an official cover-up. As Jackie Fletcher, national coordinator of Jabs (a support group for parents who believe their children were damaged by vaccines), said: ‘The decision to halt the cases now, following the provision of new evidence in support of the children’s cases, will only confirm the view that the combined powers of government and drug companies are working against vaccine victims receiving justice.’
A DoH spokesman praised the LSC’s judgement, saying: ‘We want to see parents given the facts about MMR – that there is no credible scientific evidence showing an association between MMR and autism.’ But concern about MMR hasn’t been founded on the facts. Instead, it has been founded on paranoia and suspicion – particularly of the government and medical authorities.
This suspicion has been fuelled by authorities’ defensiveness and hesitation in rebutting anti-MMR arguments. Both the government and the medical establishment were slow off the mark in response to claims, followed by the prime minister’s refusal to say whether or not his son Leo had had the jab.
Some will see the halting of this court case as evidence that the authorities are banding together to hide the truth. Of course, this is X-Files stuff – but just saying that won’t make it go away. In many ways, the more opportunities there are to air the facts, the better. It might be preferable that the case failed in the High Court, than campaigners and parents are left to wonder why it never got there.
But the court is probably not the best place to resolve the MMR question – as recent history indicates. In a previous case at the Court of Appeal, in which two mothers lost their fight to stop their daughters being vaccinated with MMR, Lord Justice Sedley said the evidence that had been presented against MMR was ‘junk science’, and ‘dangerous and unnecessary’. This damning judgement hasn’t made the issue go away, either.
(1) MMR legal bid blocked, BBC News, 1 October 2003
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