HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, August 27, 2010

Federal Circuit Rules No Link between Autism and Vaccine

According to The BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has just upheld the findings of the lower court that reject a causal connection between childhood vaccines and the onset of autism.

The ruling came in Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, which was the first of a series of test cases heard by special masters for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2007. The claims court picked several such cases to test different theories of causation advanced in the roughly 5,000 cases alleging a link to autism filed under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

'We see no legal error in the standards applied by the special master' in determining there was no causal connection between the mercury-based preservative in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine administered to Michelle Cedillo in 1995 and the autism and retardation symptoms she began to show afterward.The claims court upheld the special master's findings last year, and the federal circuit decision today affirmed that ruling.

As we wrote in 2007, the case of Michelle Cedillo was like many that have resulted in vaccine claims, with healthy babies changing drastically after vaccines were administered. 'Words alone cannot explain the trauma of watching your only child's health deteriorate to such a degree before your eyes,' her mother Theresa told Legal Times before the court proceeding began.

Judge Timothy Dyk, writing for a three-judge federal circuit panel, said that 'Michelle's development was indeed very abnormal,' but not right after the vaccine was administered. Much of the ruling deals with the scientific evidence offered by both sides in the lengthy proceeding before the special master. Dyk said the government's failure to seek documentation of one expert's findings was 'troubling,' but 'does not justify reversal.' 

Joined by Judges Pauline Newman and Richard Linn, Dyk concluded that the special master's report in the Cedillo case was 'rationally supported by the evidence, well-articulated, and reasonable.' In May, the federal circuit issued a similar ruling in another of the autism test cases, Hazlehurst v. HHS.

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