Lancet author exonerated

The May 2010 decision by the British General Medical Council (GMC) disciplinary panel to strip Dr John Walker-Smith of the right to practice medicine has been overturned by the British High Court. Justice Mitting cited “inadequate and superficial reasoning and, in a number of instances, a wrong conclusion”, and stressed, “It would be a misfortune if this were to happen again.”

He explains: “the medical records provide an equivocal answer to most of the questions which the panel had to decide. The panel had no alternative but to decide whether Professor Walker-Smith had told the truth…The GMC’s approach to the fundamental issues in the case led it to believe that that was not necessary – an error from which many of the subsequent weaknesses in the panel’s determination flowed. It had to decide what Professor Walker-Smith thought he was doing: if he believed he was undertaking research in the guise of clinical investigation and treatment, he deserved the finding that he had been guilty of serious professional misconduct and the sanction of erasure; if not, he did not, unless, perhaps, his actions fell outside the spectrum of that which would have been considered reasonable medical practice by an academic clinician. Its failure to address and decide that question is an error which goes to the root of its determination.”

“The GMC’s approach to the fundamental issues in the case” was coloured by its adherence to vaccine dogma. Dr Andrew Wakefield, lead author of the 1998 Lancet study had begun researching a possible connection between measles vaccine and bowel disease several years before the 1998 study was published. The 1998 study only claimed to have shown a connection between measles virus and a novel inflammatory bowel disease. However, since some of the parents of the children studied suspected a connection between the children’s MMR shots and their regression into autism, the study did recommend further investigation into a possible connection. This plus Wakefield’s subsequent recommendation that, at least until such investigation had been carried out, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines be administered separately and several months apart, was enough to trigger an unbelievably vitriolic reaction from the vaccine establishment worldwide. Jackie Fletcher of JABS, the UK support group for parents of vaccine damaged children, asks, “If MMR vaccines had not been mentioned within the report would there have been any criticism of the report and would a GMC hearing have taken place?” Alluding to an association between conflicting interests and the GMC panel’s now-overturned decision, she comments: “The allegations leveled at Prof. Walker-Smith and the Royal Free team now have to be viewed with total scepticism as nothing more than a witch hunt by vested interests at the highest level in Government, media and the pharmaceutical industry.”

Any possibility that Walker-Smith’s “actions fell outside the spectrum of that which would have been considered reasonable medical practice by an academic clinician.” is ludicrous. The parents of the children who were included in the Lancet study had requested consultations at the Royal Free Hospital where Walker-Smith was Professor of Paediatric Gastroenterology precisely because their children desperately needed the type of clinical investigations which he performed. As Jackie Fletcher states: “Parents reported that their children’s conditions were not being taken seriously or treated appropriately by their own GPs or paediatricians.” She notes that, “No parent of a child had complained. No child had been injured. Parents of children who had been treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London had nothing but praise for the way their children were cared for and treated by Prof. Walker-Smith and the other doctors.”

Walker-Smith was one of three authors of the 1998 Lancet study who continued to proclaim its veracity after ten others withdrew and the study was retracted from the journal. Dr Wakefield who was in the Royal Free Dept of Medicine Centre for Gastroenterology also lost his British license to practice medicine but subsequently moved to USA where he has initiated a lawsuit against the British Medical Journal, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and journalist Brian Deer alleging fraudulent misrepresentation of the Lancet study. (Whereas Walker-Smith’s professional insurance coverage paid for his appeal, Wakefield’s carrier would not.) Jackie Fletcher wonders, “Was Prof. Walker-Smith unfairly targeted simply as a means to discredit Dr. Wakefield?” Third author, Dr Simon Murch who was a senior lecturer in the Royal Free Dept of Paediatric Gastroenterology and a minor contributor to the study, was not disciplined by the GMC.

In the 2011 book, Vaccine Epidemic, co-editor Mary Holland JD conveyed the position of the US Center for Personal Rights (CPR) concerning the GMC panel’s now-overturned decision. She wrote: “CPR finds no evidence of Dr Wakefield’s scientific fraud….The GMC’s conclusions and The Lancet’s reliance on them appear unfounded.” Holland is a research scholar at NYU School of Law, graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University and co-founder and board member of the CPR. The US National Autism Association (NAA) comments, “No one questions that adverse vaccine events do occur in susceptible individuals, yet those who investigate these events on behalf of sick children are subjected to the harshest scrutiny and punishment.” In a March 7, 2012 news release NAA refers to several studies (“including a 2010 consensus report published in Pediatrics.”) which have shown an association between autism and bowel disease, the only association the denigrated 1998 Lancet study claimed to have shown. 

While Prof Walker-Smith retired in 2001, Andrew Wakefield was cut down mid-career. Jackie Fletcher quotes from ‘MMR Science and Fiction’ written by Richard Horton, the Lancet editor who retracted the 1998 study: “one protagonist in the affair had said openly and publicly that his intention was to ‘rub out’ Wakefield. A senior doctor who had played a part in shaping the debate around MMR sat in a North London bar with a glass of red wine in front of him boasting that he was ‘drinking the blood of Andrew Wakefield’. The intensity of feeling that Wakefield provoked in some opponents was unbelievably extreme.” Even Horton who was, to say the least, helpful in the initiation of charges against Wakefield seemed taken aback by the vitriol.

In her chapter in Vaccine Epidemic, Gay Tate PhD, LSW, MLSP – former scientist, practicing psychotherapist and mother of two autistic children – writes: “my family has ridden the wave of this tragic, man-made disaster from the beginning. … The pain and sickness it has caused the affected children and the toll it has taken on families is incalculable.” The GMC trial of Wakefield, Walker-Smith and Murch was the longest one in its 152 year history, taking up 217 days of deliberations over eight years and multiple millions of dollars in funding. It consumed untold hours of the defendants’ time which could otherwise have been used for treating autistic children; its costs could have been applied to such treatment. It will be remembered as one of the most scandalous medically approved offensives to children’s health ever.

Further reading:

Age of Autism news articles.

Comment by lawyer, Mary Holland (includes video)

Canary Party press release also contains video clip outside courthouse

Article from British newspaper, The Independent

BBC News article

The Telegraph news article