There's hope that today's ruling will reverse that trend. It won't affect the true believers. The notion that a government-backed, pharmaceutical-company-enriching program damaged their children has become a crusade and hobby and hangout for thousands of people, including movie stars like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, as well as doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and even a few scientists. An industry of hucksters, personal-injury lawyers, and clueless alternative-medicine practitioners has fed off of the desperation of parents of autistic children. Many parents, frantic to alter their children's diagnosis, turn to untested drugs, foods, vitamins, and extracts that promise to halt, or even reverse, autism—promising claims that some parents cling to.
In a brief filed in January, Cedillo's lawyers threatened to flood the courts with their claims should they lose the case. They wrote, "[I]t would behoove the parties, and the manufacturers, to join forces and achieve a global settlement in the Vaccine Program. The alternative is civil litigation by thousands of profoundly damaged autistic children and their families in all 50 states."
An appeals court will likely review the findings, and the claimants have the right to sue in regular courts once the vaccine court denies them compensation. But in the past two decades, the vaccine court's rulings have been effective in keeping vaccine litigation out of the civil court system.
That what's heartening about today's decision. A profoundly democratic institution, in which judges do their best to offer justice to the casualties of public health, gave 10,000 parents their day in court. But as they sing in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, "The lord answered your prayers. The answer was no." It's time to move on.
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