Some Parents of Children With Autism Upset With Provision In Security ActNov 21, 2002 | The Citizen's Voice The act was approved by the U.S. Senate Wednesday by an overwhelming 90-9 vote, but some provisions of the act will be debated in January.
Allentown resident James McGuire, who is formerly from the Wyoming Valley and whose 2-year-old son has autism, is opposed to language in the act that exempts drug manufacturers from any liability for the manufacturing, sale and use of defective vaccines and pharmaceutical products.
McGuire noted that "compelling clinical evidence" shows a link between vaccines and autism, a neurological disorder that affects brain functioning.
While he supports the creation of a Department Homeland Security, McGuire believes this provision in the act would "severely abridge the legal rights of millions of Americans."
By passing this bill with the vaccine exemptions intact, McGuire believes, "The Senate is unjustly removing legal remedies for families that have been injured as a result of defective vaccines and pharmaceutical products."
Attorney Gerald Hanchulak, who is representing more than 30 families of children with autism, believes parents' claims - that thimerosal in vaccines may have a link to autism - have merit.
He is pursuing litigation against the drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and other drug companies that manufactured vaccines, which contained 49.6-percent ethyl mercury.
He also believes the provision in the Homeland Security Act "may affect the right of people to their current claims."
"Claims have been be made by families of autistic children all over the country, particularly about the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine," Hanchulak said. "We've known that heavy metal causes neurological injuries for 400 years. Some don't support the theory, but there are plenty of people who do."
George Shadie, president of SAFE (Supporting Autism & Families Everywhere) and father of a 13-year-old son with autism, said he also was disappointed with the provision attached to the Homeland Security Act dealing with childhood vaccines.
"We would like meaningful dialogue," Shadie said. "This was a coward's way to protect their special interests. There should be a national debate about it."
Parents of children with autism also questioned what relations vaccines have to homeland security.
Both U.S. Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter voted in favor of the Homeland Security Act.
Erica Clayton Wright, Santorum spokeswoman, pointed out that seven provisions of the act, including the provision on childhood vaccines, would be debated during the next Congressional session. That debate is expected to be held in January.
"We feel this is a great first step to protect our homeland," she said. "But with any bill, there may or may not be things in bill that we agree with."
Specter said he believed it was "vitally important" that the act be passed so "we move ahead to put all the so-called dots on the screen."
"Had all the dots been on the screen, I think 9/11 may have been prevented," Specter said.
Specter added that all provisions, including the provision about childhood vaccines, "require very extensive consideration and analysis."
"I am very distressed to see them added on the bill, with no hearings and no chance for consideration," Specter said, "This is really a case where it is a matter of take it or leave it on a bill which is undesirable in many aspects, but the importance of protecting America from terrorist attacks outweighs so many of these provisions which are highly undesirable."
The Homeland Security Act is a voluminous bill, which is hundreds of pages of long. Under this act, one government agency now will be responsible for coordinating protection of the nation's borders, coastlines, airports, landmarks, utilities and other public and private facilities.
The new agency, which is expected to have more than 170,000 employees, also will help lead the nation's defense against potential chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.
"It is so important to have a secretary with authority on homeland security to act to protect against terrorism," Specter said. "The bill is very weighty and has undesirable aspects, and there are amendments which would have improved the bill tremendously."
Specter concluded that the bill was presented as "legislative blackmail, with the House having gone home, a take-it-or-leave-it proposition" which put him in a "very difficult position."