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Autistic Child and Family have their day in court
By ANDREW BRIDGES, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jun 11, 12:46 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The parents of 12-year-old Michelle
Cedillo asked a federal court Monday to find that
their child's autism was caused by common childhood
vaccines, a precedent-setting case that could pave the
way for thousands of autistic children to receive
compensation from a government fund set up to help
people injured by the shots.
Wearing noise-canceling headphones, Michelle, of Yuma,
Ariz., was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair
at the start of the proceedings before the U.S. Court
of Federal Claims. She stayed only a short time.
Her parents, Theresa and Michael Cedillo, allege a
preservative called thimerosal that had been used in
vaccines weakened their daughter's immune system and
prevented her body from clearing the measles virus
after she was immunized for the disease at age 15
Today, Michelle suffers from a litany of health
problems, including severe autism, inflammatory bowel
disease, glaucoma and epilepsy.
"We hope to find out what happened and hopefully get
the help she needs," said Theresa Cedillo, who takes
care of her daughter full time at home.
Special Master George Hastings Jr. thanked the family
for allowing theirs to be the first of nine test cases
that will help guide the resolution of some of the
nearly 5,000 similar claims lodged with the
"Clearly the story of Michelle's life is a tragic
one," Hastings said in pledging to listen carefully to
the evidence presented during the three-week hearing.
The burden of proof is easier than in a traditional
court. Plaintiffs only have to prove that a link
between autism and the shots is more likely than not,
based on a preponderance of evidence.
Large scientific studies have found no association
between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal.
But many parents say their children's symptoms did not
show up until after their children received the
vaccines, required by many states for admission to
"These are families who followed the rules. These are
families who brought children in for vaccines. These
are families who immunized their children," said the
Cedillos' attorney, Thomas Powers.
Powers said that the science regarding a possible
vaccine-autism link is in dispute.
Government attorney Vincent Matanoski dismissed
much of what the plaintiffs are expected to present as
conjecture or speculation.
"You'll find their hypotheses untested or, when
tested, have been found false," Matanoski said.
Since 1999, more than 4,800 families have filed claims
with the government alleging their children developed
autism as a result of routine vaccinations. Most
contend that a preservative called thimerosal is to
blame for the impaired social interaction typical of
The court is being asked to decide whether there is a
link between autism and childhood vaccines. If it
finds one exists, the families could be eligible for
compensation under the Vaccine Injury Compensation
Fund, a program established by Congress to ensure an
adequate supply of vaccines by safeguarding
manufacturers from lawsuits. Under the program, people
injured by vaccines receive compensation through a
special trust fund.
Autism is characterized by impaired social
interaction. Those affected often have trouble
communicating, and they exhibit unusual or severely
limited activities and interests. Classic symptoms of
mercury poisoning include anxiety, fatigue and
abnormal irritation, as well as cognitive and motor
Monday's case addresses the theory that the cause of
autism is the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in
combination with other vaccines containing thimerosal.
The preservative, about 50 percent mercury by weight,
is no longer found in routine childhood vaccines but
is used in some flu shots.
In July 1999, the U.S. government asked vaccine
manufacturers to eliminate or reduce, as expeditiously
as possible, the mercury content of their vaccines to
avoid any possibility of infants who receive vaccines
being exposed to more mercury than is recommended by
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