TV drama draws public health ire
NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 18, 2008
The premier episode of the new ABC lawyer drama "Eli Stone" aired Jan. 31 despite the concerns of major physician organizations.
In separate letters sent before the TV show's debut, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and other health and physician groups called on ABC to pull the program from its lineup. At issue was a story line in which the title character argued in court that a vaccine containing mercury caused autism.
While the show included statements acknowledging that science has refuted any link between autism and vaccines, the groups felt the episode's conclusion delivered a contrary impression. Specifically, a fictional jury awarded $5.2 million to the mother of an autistic child who sued a vaccine maker, leaving audiences with the idea that vaccines do cause autism.
The physician groups pointed out to ABC their concern about the show's "misleading medical content." They noted that mercury is no longer used in routinely offered vaccines and that no scientific link exists between autism and vaccines. The groups were particularly alarmed because many people trust the health information presented on fictional TV shows. The AMA also pointed to a recent scenario in the U.K., where erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades.
Since the network opted to go forward with the episode, both groups urged ABC to include disclaimers at the show's beginning and end to communicate that its themes did not reflect the reality of current scientific and medical opinion and that no scientific link exists between vaccines and autism.
ABC decided to run an "information card" at the end of the show, referring viewers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site to find out more about autism.
Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2008/02/18/hlbf0218.htm.