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ASAN Statement On Dr. Phil Episode Featuring K. Stapleton

20 Sep

Below is a statement by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network issued a statement on Friday, September 19th, condemning Dr. Phil for recent segments featuring Kelli Stapleton.

Stapleton is currently standing trial and has pled guilty to the charge of first-degree child abuse for the attempted murder of her autistic daughter, Issy Stapleton, age 14. The Dr. Phil segments are consistent with the broader media coverage in the year since the attempted murder; rather than rallying with sympathy and support for a child victim of attempted filicide, there have been near-constant attempts to excuse and justify her murderer and paint the person who tried to kill her–her own mother–as the “real” victim. But this abhorrent and retraumatizing brand of violence found a new voice and a new vigor on Dr. Phil.

In the segments, K. Stapleton has been granted new means to exploit her victim. Whether this comes in the form of violating her daughter’s privacy by sharing some of her most vulnerable moments with the world; crafting a sensationalized and dehumanizing narrative of her daughter’s life; using this narrative to solicit dubious donations; or committing character assassination by emphasizing her daughter’s “violence” and painting her as monstrous, Dr. Phil offered an abusive and murderous parent a platform, with no regard for the consequences to her victim–or the potential copycat effects.

“We see a pattern of copycat crimes whenever there is a well-publicized case of a parent murdering, or attempting to murder, their disabled child” said Julia Bascom, ASAN’s Director of Programs. “Every time this happens, commenters come out of the woodwork offering every possible excuse, and nothing could be more dangerous. As disabled people, our lives aren’t valued, and we see the consequences in every one of these headlines. Stapleton attempted to kill her daughter one year ago in the wake of an extremely well-publicized and extraordinarily hateful hatchet job about the murder of another autistic teenager, Alex Spourdalakis. Dr. Phil had an opportunity to shut down this cycle of violence, and instead he chose to perpetuate it, as loudly and widely as possible.”

The victim of child abuse is not the adult abuser. The victim of murder is not the murderer. K. Stapleton is not the victim of her attempted filicide, but she has been allowed to re-victimize her target. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network forcefully denounces Dr. Phil for facilitating this violence, and urges the disability community to join us in breaking the cycle of violence and copycat murders we see year in and year out. Join us in sending this message: it is always wrong for a parent to murder their child. There is never a justification. There are always other options. The only victims here are disabled people murdered by those we should have been able to trust the most.

And to Issy Stapleton, the only victim of this tragedy, the only person whose voice deserves to be heard here, we say: what your mother did was not okay, and it wasn’t your fault. There is a whole world of people who support you. We are sorry this happened to you, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it can never happen to anyone, ever again. You deserve nothing less.

Andrew Wakefield loses frivolous defamation lawsuit. To pay court costs.

19 Sep

In 2011 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a series of articles about Andrew Wakefield and his efforts to promote the idea of the MMR vaccine causing autism. Brian Deer has a list of links on his website: Secrets of the MMR scare. Here are just a few of those links:

Piltdown medicine – the missing link between MMR and autism

Editorial: Wakefield’s article linking MMR with autism was fraudulent

How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed

How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money

The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news

Nearly a year after those were published, Andrew Wakefield took issue with his work being declared fraudulent and sued for defamation. Not in the UK, where the laws are very favorable to him. No, instead he chose his home state of Texas. Mr. Wakefield’s original suit was denied on the grounds that he did not have the standing to bring suit against the BMJ in Texas. Mr. Wakefield appealed. And lost.

In the recent appeal the judgment the court stated:

This is an appeal from the judgment signed by the trial court on August 3, 2012. Having reviewed the record and the parties’ arguments, the Court holds that there was no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment. Therefore, the Court affirms the trial court’s judgment. The appellant shall pay all costs relating to this appeal, both in this Court and the court below.

The full judgment can also be found online.

[Edit to add--see the discussion below. It is quite possible that I did not read this correctly]

If I read this correctly, Mr. Wakefield will be paying the costs the BMJ team incurred as well as his own. And, not only in the appeal, but also “in the court below”, which I read to be in the original suit. To put it simply–Mr. Wakefield may be in the position of paying the costs going back to when he first filed his defamation case.

The BMJ team and Mr. Wakefield’s team were four attorneys each. I would expect that Mr. Wakefield’s costs run into many tens of thousands of dollars. I would expect that the BMJ’s costs are likely even higher.

Which brings us to the obvious question: with a gamble of this size, what would this appeal have accomplished had Mr. Wakefield won? Well, for starters the BMJ team’s Anti SLAPP suit would have moved forward. Texas had just enacted Anti-SLAPP legislation at the time Mr. Wakefield filed suit (as an aside, if I recall correctly this is one of the blunders of Mr. Wakefield’s suit–waiting until after the new law was in place to file). SLAPP stands for Strategic lawsuit against public participation. The BMJ suit essentially puts for the idea that Mr. Wakefield’s defamation suit was a cynical attempt to stop the BMJ (and others) from voicing public criticism about Mr. Wakefield’s actions. Mr. Wakefield faced heavy penalties had the Anti-SLAPP suit gone forward and had the BMJ won.

This is the fourth time that Mr. Wakefield has attempted to “gag the media” as Mr. Deer puts it. And now the fourth time Mr. Wakefield has lost. One can never tell for certain, but it seems likely that Mr. Wakefield would have lost the Anti-SLAPP suit.

Let’s say Mr. Wakefield avoided an Anti-SLAPP judgment. He would have been able to bring his defamation case to court on the merits. Not on the merits of his scientific work, but on the question of whether the BMJ team could rightfully call his work fraudulent. A case the BMJ team certainly prepared for before going to press. And prepared to defend in the UK, where the laws are much more favorable to Mr. Wakefield. Which is to say, I suspect the BMJ felt strongly that they had checked all their facts closely and were well defended in any and all statements they made.

From my point of view, this defamation lawsuit was a vanity exercise by Mr. Wakefield. It got his name in the news. It may have slowed criticism of him for years. He got to look like a hero to his own community.

And he threw tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars down the tubes in the effort. Mr. Wakefield heads the “Strategic Autism Initiative” which has the purported goal of funding autism research. Last I checked the majority of the money collected for the SAI went to salaries. Mr. Wakefield’s being the lion’s share. Be that as it may, Mr. Wakefield had an option a few years ago: fund autism research or fund this lawsuit.

Well, we see his choice. And the result. Sure there may be a further appeal. Take it to the Texas Supreme Court and delay some more. And run up more bills to pay.


By Matt Carey

When a child is killed by a parent the word “but” does not apply

13 Sep

Isabelle Stapleton is an autistic teenager. Thankfully we get to say “is” as, you see, her mother tried to kill Isabelle (“Issy” to her friends). The mother took her daughter to a remote area and lit two charcoal grills in her van so that the carbon monoxide would poison them both.

It has been reported that at times Isabelle has been violent. Keep in mind most of those reports seem to source back to the mother, the mother who tried to kill her. I’m not trying to downplay Isabelle’s struggles. Some in our community have very great needs.

“Dr. Phil” has interviewed Isabllele’s mother. People Magazine has a story up on it. Whenever these stories go online I cringe. Rarely are they handled well. And I cringe even more at the comments I know will be there.

One can just bet that many comments will take the form, “no one should kill her child…..but…..”

There is no “but” in this. No one should commit murder. No parent should kill her child. Full stop. Period. “But” does not apply.

Variants of this are “don’t judge her” and “until you walk in her shoes”.

“Judge” means to form an opinion.

For those who write that: the mother tried to kill her daughter. I will form an opinion about this–this is wrong. I don’t have to “walk in her shoes” to say that. Why won’t you form an opinion? Why does her daughter’s disability have anything to do with forming this opinion?

Just in case you are wondering: I did purposely write this without mentioning the mother’s name. The mother is not the story. When autistics have been murdered in the past there have been news stories that never mention the name of the victim.

By Matt Carey

Shannon Des Roches Rosa: Changing Conversations: When Parents Murder Disabled Children

11 Sep

Shannon Rosa is the incredible parent of incredible kids, one of whom is autistic. I could say this from what I’ve read because Ms. Rosa is an excellent writer, but I have also met her and Leo in real life. Ms. Rosa writes at BlogHer as well as The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and Squidalicious.

A recent BlogHer article she wrote covers a very important topic: how when a disabled person is murdered the conversation usually focuses on the murderer, not the victim

Changing Conversations: When Parents Murder Disabled Children

Her article starts:

Michigan parent Kelli Stapleton recently pled guilty to poisoning her autistic teen daughter Issy. According to police reports, Kelly lured Issy into a van, “drugged her, lit the grills and left the van to get more charcoal while her sleeping daughter breathed in poisonous carbon monoxide fumes.” Kelli and Issy both survived the attempted murder-suicide. Issy emerged from a coma and seems to be doing well; Kelli is in jail, and is scheduled to be sentenced on October 6th.

Go to Changing Conversations: When Parents Murder Disabled Children for the full article.

–By Matt Carey

An open letter to the National Whistleblowers Center: David Lewis and the outing of a CDC whistleblower

11 Sep
Dear National Whistleblowers Center,
 
I appreciate the work you do but I would like some clarification on recent events.
 
A gentleman came forward from the CDC to provide information about what he felt were inappropriately withheld results on an old autism study.  This gentleman guided someone outside the CDC to reproduce the result.  These results were published and with that publication a public relations campaign was started.  This is where your board member, David Lewis, comes into the story.  Mr. Lewis can be seen in the video produced.  That video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGOtDVilkUc
 
The original video was produced with the whistleblower’s name censored and his voice modified.  However, his gender was given, making it rather simple work for the CDC and everyone else to work out who this was (only one male was an author on the paper in question).  Within 3 days of the release of the video, the online version was replaced with the uncensored version you see now–the version with “whistleblower revealed” as a title.
 
Since that time the whistleblower has released a statement including noting
 
1) he never consented to having his phone calls taped
2) he never consented to having his identity released
3) it appears, thus, that the video was not shown to the whistleblower, so he could not have approved of the rather ugly race-baiting angle it took.
 
 
Here are some other problematic details in these events.
 
1) Mr. Lewis is in the employ of the organization which did this study, Focus Autism.  Both Mr. Lewis himself and his charity/church have been paid according to public tax forms from Focus Autism.
 
2) Mr. Lewis does not make this conflict of interest known in the video.
 
3) Mr. Lewis has a history of working with the director of the video, Andrew Wakefield.  This includes soliciting donations through Mr. Lewis’ church with the purpose of using those funds to support Mr. Wakefield. 
 
4) Mr. Wakefield has major conflicts of interest in this video as he is trying to rebuild the reputation he damaged with his unethical actions (as deemed by the U.K.’s General Medical Council).
 
5) These COI’s are not disclosed in the video, although most in the autism community are well aware of Mr. Wakefield’s.
 
6) The video takes a very ugly race-baiting approach.  It takes what the whistleblower suggests is a scientific dispute and frames it as CDC officials partaking in a new “Tuskegee” experiment an compares the CDC officials unfavorably to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.  This includes civil rights pioneer Marshalyn Yeagan-Allsopp.
 
Mr. Lewis has not issued a statement that I can find distancing himself from the actions of his team: the breach of confidentiality of the whistleblower nor the cynical use of the whistleblower for political and public relations gain by Mr. Wakefield.   I can not see how the treatment of this whistleblower by Mr. Lewis’ team can be construed as appropriate. In the video we can see Mr. Lewis making use of the opportunity for product placement of his book, “Science for Sale”.  Given Mr. Lewis’ tacit approval of this video, again one put together for his own benefactor Focus Autism, I see his actions as “opinion for sale”. 
 
I write for a website called LeftBrainRightBrain.co.uk.  You will see I have been highly critical of the actions of the team that outed this whistleblower.
 
Could I ask for a statement from your organization?  Do you believe these actions to be within the bounds of appropriate behavior for one working with a whistleblower?  If so, could you elaborate, because recording a whistleblower without his permission, outing a whistleblower, and using the whistleblower for such an ugly public relations campaign without his approval seem far outside the bounds to me.
 
I look forward to your reply,
Matt Carey

NOVA: Vaccines — Calling the Shots

9 Sep

The question of vaccine safety comes up a lot in the online autism parent community. The PBS program Nova is taking a look at vaccines and vaccine safety in a show “Calling the Shots”. As they point out, it is OK to question vaccine safety, but that is just the start of the conversation. The program airs tomorrow (September 10) at 9pm.

It looks like it will be an excellent program.

Here is the webpage for the show complete with a brief sneak preview:

Here is a 3 1/2 minute

here is a “behind the scenes” look at the show


By Matt Carey

Harpocrates Speaks on: MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media

8 Sep

Todd W. over at Harpocrates Speaks has put together a FAQ like guide on the questions that come up with regards to recent research by Brian Hooker and the allegations Mr. Hooker has made about the CDC. That article is an excellent resource for people looking for some answers on this story. The article starts:

The anti-vaccine community has been in a tizzy lately over a supposed “CDC whistleblower”, Dr. William W. Thompson, who, according to them, revealed fraud at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To bolster their claim, they point to a new study from one of their own, Brian S. Hooker, that purports to show evidence of an increased risk of autism among African American boys who receive their first MMR vaccine late. However, the claims appear to be hollow and unfounded, and so they have chosen to rely on emotional arguments that may sound convincing to those who are not familiar with the issues and people involved. In a truly egregious fashion, they have erroneously and cynically compared this whole thing to the Tuskegee syphilis study, and equated the CDC with Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, combined.

With that in mind, here is a brief FAQ for parents, news media and others to help them understand what the claims are and what the evidence actually says. The questions below have been raised or implied by anti-vaccine activists. Hopefully, this will prevent inaccurate reporting and help parents feel reassured about the MMR vaccine.

That FAQ can be found at MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media


By Matt Carey

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