Actually, that's not the essence of my argument.
I don't prefer mental retardation to tort reform; I prefer mental retardation to death. Unfortunately, I'm not HoboDeathStudent, and I like to pretend sometimes that I care about issues relating to my future career. (Actually, I do. But no one wants to debate the intersection of contract law and social policy with me. So I will continue to mostly write about things I cook)
So there is a massive, massive lawsuit in the works. If you're unfamiliar with the thimoseral/autism thing, here's a summary: In the past fifteen or twenty years, autism has been being diagnosed far more often than it had been previously. This increase cannot be explained by an increase in the population, although it is theorized, that, among many possible factors, it may be related to the aging of the population. There are a great many people, and very many parents of autistic children, who believe that a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines, thimoseral, is the cause of some cases of autism.
The proposed mechanism of action is inconsistent; some people believe it is the mercury in the thimoseral which causes brain damage, which causes autism, in certain very vulnerable children. Others believe that it is the combination of vaccines now given, which overwhelm the immune system in some children, and cause an auto-immune reaction, which causes autism.
The science isn't good; and the law isn't any better. For many reasons, it would be hard to make this case out in regular court. First, unlike, say, DES, which caused a characteristic type of cancer, (clear cell adenoma)at an unusual age; there is nothing distinct about autism potentially caused by a vaccine and other cases of autism. Any potential plaintiff may have contracted autism anyway (factual causation problem, for tort students).
Plaintiffs have, however, killed their legal and scientific problems by bringing suit in "Vaccine Court", which, as far as I can tell, has lowered their burdens of proof in order to create a more streamlined process for people injured by vaccines. All settlements in vaccine court come out of a general pool; mumps vaccine makes your balls fall off, flu vaccine gives you a seizure - it all comes from the same account. That way, no one has to identify the manufacturer or distributor of their particular dose of vaccine.
I could go on legally, but I won't.
Before I go into my next argument, let me just say: I have tremendous respect for parents of autistic children and all people who work with them. If I had the balls and the strength of character, not to mention the patience and internal reserves, to be in a nurturing profession like that...I wouldn't be going up to my eyelashes in debt to be able to sit in a room with papers all day.
But basically, if you're a parent, what these parents are saying, with their lawsuit is "Fuck your kids."
Vaccines aren't fun; they're not a government plot. They're not a pharmaceutical plot. They're dangerous tools of the medical profession, yes. But they're necessary. And the reason they're necessary is because if we did not vaccinate children, we'd be back to the era of birthing four to raise three. Mumps, measles, rubella, polio. All these things didn't just hurt kids, or make their lives difficult, lonely, unpleasant, frustrating, undignified- they killed them. If thimoseral causes autism (and I have seen nothing to convince me it does), it's still worth vaccinating every child.
Autism doesn't kill you. Polio might.
So what these parents are saying is "I would prefer that my child be normal, and two children I do not know be dead." It's a fair thing to feel. If we didn't want to save kin over strangers, especially unseen strangers, we'd have run out of ourselves, long ago. It's not a fair thing, however, to enact. If vaccines become too much of a liability for companies to produce, they'll stop. And when they stop, people will start to die. Mostly children.
I've been thinking about the outcry against increased genetic testing for down syndrome. Parents of children with downs syndrome are concerned that if people find out that they're having a child with downs syndrome, they will abort it. They feel that if these parents knew what living with a child with downs is like, they'd keep the baby. People are concerned about the ethics of ending a pregnancy, to spare a family from having a mentally disabled child, or to spare a child from having to live with a mental disability - when we have a whole lobby of people who openly prefer the painful deaths of other children, to the possibility that their child may not be perfect.
By the way, kids: The vaccine court is a form of tort reform. A limited pool of compensation. Specific rules for specific injuries. Streamlined process. Tort reform ain't the answer.