Controversial Autism Doctor Stripped of License

MAY 24, 2010
After a three-year investigation, England’s General Medicine Council has removed autism researcher Andrew Wakefield from the medical register.

Wakefield, whose 1998 study in The Lancet suggested a possible link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), was found guilty of “serious professional misconduct” by a fitness to practice panel. Striking his name from the register, it said, “is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients,” and maintain “public trust and confidence in the profession” (click here to read the full text of the ruling).

The panel ruled that Wakefield repeatedly breached the fundamental principles of research medicine during the course of the study, which it said involved carrying out unnecessary and invasive tests on children without official permission. One incident that garnered a great deal of attention was a birthday party in which Wakefield admittedly took blood samples from a group of children, rewarding them with £5 each, an act that “showed callous disregard for any distress or pain the children might suffer,” according to the panel.

Wakefield has 28 days to file an appeal; and if his interview with Today’s Matt Lauer on May 24 was any indication, the controversial figure isn’t going away any time soon.

“This is a little bump on the road, and that’s how it should be perceived,” he said during the interview. “What it does not detract from is the fact that there are millions of children out there suffering, and the fact that the vaccines cause autism.” (Click here to read a statement from the National Autism Association supporting Wakefield.)

Despite losing his license to practice medicine in the U.K., Wakefield told Lauer he plans to proceed with his research and will continue to maintain the premise that autism and MMR are linked.

The study that sparked so much controversy has since been retracted by The Lancet. Wakefield’s findings from a group of 12 patients have not been replicated, and in fact, have been contested by several large-scale investigations, including a case-controlled study that included researchers from Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Trinity College Dublin, and the CDC.

And while Wakefield said in a statement that he believes the “efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the Government from exposure on the MMR vaccine scandal,” the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health expressed relief with the panel’s findings. “The false suggestion of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine has done untold damage” to the U.K.’s vaccination program,” said Professor Terence Stephenson, president.

According to the Health Protection Agency, there were 1,370 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales in 2008 and 1,144 in 2009, compared with 56 cases in 1998. And in 2006, a 13-year-old male who was not vaccinated died from measles; prior to that, the last death from acute measles was in 1992, it reports.

What is your take on this issue? Do you feel the panel was justified in striking Wakefield from the medical register? How will this impact vaccination trends in the United States?

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