Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fear of An Autistic Planet [Updated 2/6/15]

I've been wonderin' why
People livin' in fear
Of my shade
(Or my hi top fade)
I'm not the one that's runnin'
But they got me one the run
Treat me like I have a gun
All I got is genes and chromosomes
Consider me Black to the bone
All I want is peace and love
On this planet
(Ain't that how God planned it?)

-- From "Fear of A Black Planet" (Chuck D/Public Enemy)

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We are living in fear of an Autistic Planet. This is the primary reason why so many, including Catholics who consider themselves pro-life, feel justified in their decision to risk the disability and death of their children and the children of their fellows by refusing the MMR vaccine.

Of course, they will tell you that this is not the reason they refuse it. They will tell you that the reason they are willing to risk death for their children and others' is that the vaccine was grown in a culture derived from the cell line of an aborted fetus fifty years ago.

This is supposed to be some kind of principled pro-life stand. It is not. 

Here's why:

- The material cooperation with evil on the part of those who use the vaccine is so remote that it is devoid of any of the characteristics that would make it sinful;

- The willingness of self-styled pro-life anti-vaccinators to risk the death, from measles, of those who are immunocompromised and must rely on herd immunity to stay safe is in direct contradiction to any principle that purports to stand for life; and

- To deny the good that has come from vaccines, including those derived from aborted fetal stem-cell lines fifty years go, undermines Christian theology itself.

I know that some Catholics are calling vaccine refusal "conscientious objection." It is not. True conscientious objection admits that the dictates of one's own conscience are in opposition to the social conscience, and is willing to accept the consequences, including punishment, of following them. Conscientious objectors to the draft in World War II and Vietnam, for instance, willingly served prison time for their choice (draft dodgers who fled to Canada in the latter war were obviously not conscientious objectors). I have yet to meet or read of a so-called conscientious objector to the measles vaccine who would accept a similar punishment for following what he purports to be the dictates of his conscience. Rather, the argument they make is that one's own self-interest trumps the common good. Can someone explain to me how this argument can be legitimately called either pro-life or Catholic?

The Vatican has made it clear that vaccinating is neither an occasion nor a near-occasion of sin (see the link above). If this is so, then what is the real reason that so many apparently faithful Catholics refuse the vaccine, even if to do so announces to the world, in the starkest possible terms, that they do not love their neighbors as themselves?

It's because they fear autism. And because they believe in the debunked and compromised results of a corrupt and amateurish study, published in the Lancet almost twenty years ago, that linked the measles vaccine to a gut syndrome in twelve children and theorized that this syndrome somehow made them autistic (a study conducted by a doctor with undisclosed conflicts of interest, who has since been stripped of his license to practice, but has moved to the U.S., where he is exploiting some parents' Fear of An Autistic Planet for cold, hard cash). Apparently anything, including the death of children, is better than having an autistic child. Can someone explain to me how this fear of autism can be legitimately called either pro-life or Catholic?

I will not link here to any of the so-called Catholic commentary that tries to pass off the championing of personal freedom over the good of all as conscientious objection. Because it's not Catholic. It's libertarian. And libertarianism, in spite of all the recent Talmudic parsing by Catholic libertarians to make it seem Catholic, is not.

But let us be hypothetical for a moment and suppose that all these free-floating fears are justified. Let us imagine that big pHARMa really does want to change your child's genetic neurological structure in order to line its own pockets (never mind the fact that the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines give millions of doses away to Third World countries and that vaccines are actually a loss leader for these companies). And let us suppose further that, in cahoots with Big Pharma, the governments wants, in Jenny McCarthy's evocative phrase, "the soul gone from [your child's] eyes]," probably in order to take your child from you and make him a ward of the evil state, or something like that.

Such fears, whether trilled in the strident tones of unabashed conspiracy theorists, or spoken gently by well-heeled Marin County parents (in a recent New York Times article, one mother rationalized that she had "meditated on it a lot" before deciding not to vaccinate her children; another explained that "[v]accines don't feel right for me"), are really the Fear of An Autistic Planet. Even Catholics, who embrace the birth of a baby with Down Syndrome and heroize the parents of such children, evidently want to keep the soul in their children's eyes, and would rather not vaccinate than risk having a child with autism.  I am struggling to understand how this inherently ableist attitude is pro-life.

Finally, it is a denial of Catholic theology itself to insist, against all evidence and clear-cut statements from the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, that the measles vaccine is evil. I do not deny that the basis for its creation -- using the stem cells from an aborted fetus -- was material cooperation with evil. But our faith teaches us that God can, and does, bring good -- even great good -- out of evil. The crucifixion of Christ was evil, undoubtedly the ultimate evil. But the cross, the Romans' barbaric instrument of torture and death, became the sign of our salvation.

The belief that vaccines cause autism, and that refusing them will prevent autism, is belief in magic. The belief that God can use anything to bring about a good effect, and that the measles vaccine has ultimately proven that God brings good out of evil, is Christian. The fear of autism is pagan. The love of all our brothers and sisters is Christian.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, whose daughter Maria Zita died of measles at the age of six, a year before the measles vaccine was introduced, pray for us!