Mercury Rising: Vaccinations & Autism Saturday, Jun 5 2010 

For years, Americans have watched movies, read stories, and even protested in regards to the cause of autism. Although there has been a good deal of study and research to prove or disprove the cause, there are still unanswered questions. If vaccines can hurt the infants that receive them, why do a large majority of health practitioners so strongly stand by those vaccinations? The number of vaccines that infants receive within the first two years of life is staggering, but at the same token, many feel them necessary to protect future generations. Based on readings by Lisa Miller and Joni Reynolds, Jeffrey Baker, and Arthur Allen, it is my understanding that the four writers share the idea that vaccines do not independently cause autism—but a combined effect.

Autism is a neurological disorder that is typified by impairments in communicative or cooperative skills, and repeated actions or motions typically being identified in the child by the age of three (Miller and Reynolds 166). Depending on the child, he/she might be given gifts of extensive memory or even the ability to distinguish a large number of musical pieces, and even today, people such as Bill Gates, who has a form of autism, have created successful careers and lifestyles. Baker states that autism was only recognized in 1948 when Leo Kanner, a respected psychoanalyst, noted that eleven children were “shutting out all contact, as well as an ‘obsessive desire for the maintenance of sameness’ in their play and daily routines” (248). However, there is constant controversy as to how these children develop autism—is it the parents or the vaccines or more harrowing: something else? Parents of autistic children have gone as far as to say their offspring have “always been self-sufficient… ‘like in a shell;’ ‘happiest when left alone’” (Allen 372). One family in particular have coined the experience “going down the rabbit hole” because like Alice they are in the dark and have no idea where they are going—unlike Alice, their world will not be fanciful (Allen 374-375). It is these descriptions that give autism images—gentle children who sit in solitude in their own world while still in the reality of their parents and siblings or terrifying behaviors like thrashing themselves onto the floor and screaming.

When autism was discovered, it was considered a rarity. However, time passed and the statistics regarding autism rose—almost at an alarming rate. Allen remarks that in the 1970’s, autism was still viewed as rare with a commonness being “3 and 5 in every 10,000 children” (372). At this time, people were still unsure as how to handle the thought that autism was indeed occurring. However, when another thirty year passed, and the frequency rose, the approximation was that “3 to 5 children in 1,000” had developed autism (Allen 372). Around this time that children were receiving a large number of vaccinations which only fueled the idea that vaccinations were the origin of autism.

Over the years, there have been many theories, ideas, and accusations of sorts towards the causation of autism. At one point, Bruno Bettelheim, an autism researcher stated that “autism arose in infancy in response to rejection by an emotionally distant parent—a so-called ‘refrigerator mother’” (Baker 248). This idea continued to be popular for sometime before someone actually called out the idea and its creator. Baker also pinpoints Bernard Rimland, who in 1965, tore apart the psychogenic framework and presented the idea that the disorder could be traced to a parent’s biology (248). Rimland’s proposition could be seen as much more plausible than Bettelheim’s notion due to the studies that have focused on genetics’ as being significant for cognitive maturity. However, if genetics are a large part of the cause of autism, why are vaccinations being placed under the microscope of so much public scrutiny? Thimerosal.

Vaccinations were created to help people have immunity to potentially lethal diseases. However, if the general public—parents in particular are in fear of the negative possibilities that could affect their children, it is probable that parents will veer away and look to alternative preventative methods. The earliest medical vaccine was in 1796 when “Edward Jenner vaccinated James Phipps using material from a cowpox lesion on the hand of a milkmaid” and “a later attempt to give Phipps smallpox demonstrated his immunity” (Miller and Reynolds 167). At this time vaccinations were beginning to be seen as a necessity to survive—this vaccine was soon followed by a polio vaccine and a dozen more that are used today. However, it is not the vaccine that is the focus; it is the active ingredient Thimerosal, which was used longer in the MMR doses than other vaccines—a vaccine preservative whose ingredients include mercury, a chemical, if the wrong type could cause brain damage if a certain amount is given. 

Vaccine manufacturers use Thimerosal as a preservative for multidose vaccine vials that are used in third world countries where they cannot afford to pay for the vaccination at one time if at all. Miller and Reynolds describe why Thimerosal’s use is so controversial; it is half or 50% mercury in weight (170). However, there is a distinction that needs to be made—ethyl mercury versus methyl mercury. Like the two forms of alcohol, there is one that is lethal and the other is not. Methyl mercury “can accumulate in the brain and cause neurological damage” whereas ethyl mercury “is metabolized and cleared by the body” (Miller and Reynolds 170). Ethyl mercury is used in Thimerosal—but methyl mercury is “synthesized by bacteria living in mercury-polluted waters, where it is passed up the food chain and concentrated in fish,” and more often than not, found in Tuna (Baker 246). What is much worse is that Allen reports that in 1998 a study was carried out that showed “8 percent of childbearing women in the United States had levels of mercury in their blood above the EPA recommended level” and a “breastfed child would get roughly twice as much methyl mercury in mother’s milk as ethyl mercury from vaccines in its first six months of life” (378). This knowledge is clearly something to be noted because its significance points at not the vaccine as the cause, but to the parents and what they consume during pregnancy—causing harm to a child is high on a parent’s list of fears. 

However, in the 1990s, a good majority of people were sure that autism was indeed genetic leading many a parent to question themselves and severity to which they had hurt their child (Allen 387). Then again, there were even bigger majorities that were calling autism and its progressive nature an epidemic. This practice led to researchers, activists, and parents alike scrambling for answers—always receiving more questions than actual answers. Allen notes that if there was one thing that no person could deny it was that “autism diagnoses had gone up during a period in which vaccine use was going up… it was a handy correlation, whether coincidental or not” (387). Vaccine critics use a good deal of the smallest shreds of evidence they can gather to prove that autism is caused by vaccines and nothing else.

In recent years, due to the remarkable talents that come with autism such as extensive memory, auditory, gustation, higher pain tolerance, etc, autism has been called the “geek disease” (Allen 400). Studies have shown that autistics are more often than not born to high intelligence persons rather than average intelligence persons. Many people feel that this is a positive thought in a reality that shows otherwise. For example, Allen dictates than in 2006 “more than 6,000 new autistic 3- to 5-year-olds entered the California mental health system—roughly 40 percent more than” was entered in 2002 (411-412). So, does this mean that 12,000 individuals that are highly intelligent are reproducing autistic children? No—placing the blame is easiest when people are at wits end and desperate for answers—much like many parents of autistics.

In that, it goes without saying that parents with no answers and many questions are going to become even more frustrated when their concerns are deemed insignificant. A committee created in 2004 to investigate the claims and indictments on vaccinations went on to say that, “From a public service perspective the committee does not consider a significant investment in studies of the theoretical vaccine-autism connection to be useful” (Allen 411). However, in 2001, that same committee stated that “a link between Thimerosal and neurodevelopmental delays was ‘biologically plausible’” (Allen 410). In between 2001 and 2004, what proof could they have found that would make them speak to the contrary—going from plausible to insignificant? Unfortunately, the government never gave reason as to why they had switched their views and opinions.

Autism may not be caused by vaccines or the Thimerosal in the vaccines. Parents, activists, and others have given way to an awareness that could have been fully acknowledged years ago. However, new light has been placed onto the genetic idea that was given 40 years ago. People are beginning to believe that other persons could be autism carriers and the vaccines trigger the gene—a combined effort through genes and vaccines. This knowledge ultimately moves to the point that it is no one person’s fault if this is proven to be fact. It may place humanity on a path that would hopefully give the answers to the questions about what has caused my brother and thousands of other children to develop autism.

Works Cited

Allen, Arthur. Vaccine The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. New York: W.   W.  Norton, 2007.

Baker, Jeffrey P. “Mercury, Vaccines, and Autism One Controversy, Three Histories.” American Journal of Public Health 98.2 (Feb. 2008): 244-253. Academic Search Premier.

Miller, Lisa, and Joni Reynolds. “Autism and Vaccination—The Current Evidence.” Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing 14.3 (July 2009): 166-172. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. O’Grady Library, Lacey, Wa. 26 Sep. 2009        e&db=aph&AN=43017185&site=ehost-live.


Carnal Daisies Saturday, May 22 2010 

Being a woman has many stigmas attached to it. However, being a woman that is comfortable in her sexuality and not afraid of that is an entirely different matter altogether. Or is it? For hundreds of years women have been the center of all things soft and sensual, and at the same time persecuted for being too sensual. It should not be seen as socially acceptable for only a man to enjoy sex, and yet, that is currently the social norm. Women and men should be held at the same standard because there is not one person on Earth that can truly say what is and what is not sexually permissible. Celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Madonna, TLC, Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga, have all independently caused stirs in the media when being vocal about sex or being a sex symbol. Women, as human beings have the right to expression and the right to live through that expression, sexual or otherwise.

Being a woman is only a part of a larger picture. According to Mary G. Dietz, “Gender is absorbed into a mixture of identifications” and “woven of many different stands” including “color, class, ethnicity, culture, sexual identity, sexuality, etc” (Dietz 411). Which means that these strands are present in all human beings, therefore, if a man is able to be open about his sexuality, as well should a woman. The key for all women is the want to discover “common threads which connect the diverse experiences of women” in a common unity (Dietz 405). In “Estrogen, Desire, and Puberty,” Natalie Angier’s words give insight to being a girl and eventually a woman: Girls can imagine futures for each other, with outrageous careers and a string of extraordinary lovers, because it is easier to be generous to another than to yourself, but imagining greatness for a friend makes it thinkable for yourself…(23). In other words, girls and women are not to think about pleasure for themselves, but to have hope for others because it would appear more socially appropriate. However, what is socially appropriate has often changed from times before World War I to presently.

Sexuality has varied from before World War I to presently. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull declared herself a contender for the United States presidency. However, Ms. Woodhull was ahead of her time and publicly proclaimed the “philosophy of free love” (Strom 114). Strom also states that: Emma Goldman… was frequently arrested for her incendiary speeches, and socialist Charlotte Perkins Gilman echoed early reformers’ belief that women should choose sexual partners on the basis of mutual love and desire… Goldman insisted that the institution [marriage] was inherently stifling for both women and men (114). At this time, marriages were not necessarily built on the idea of love, but more on security. Women would have large families and due to society’s belief that women were not truly supposed to have their own opinions, the women in question often remained faceless, or without identity as to who they were. However, as Strom notes, during the 1900’s, with surprising thanks to Freud and his psychoanalytic theory, a rather large change occurred: A new sexual sensibility… divorced sex from reproduction and emphasized sexual pleasure for its own sake for both women and men, overthrowing some of the Victorian constraints of the past (200). This was controversial because it was expected of women to be naive in their sexuality, and to not truly acknowledge it.

Unfortunately, women who are comfortable in their sexuality have unintentionally brought with them baggage created by other people—baggage in the form of words. As Feona Attwood notes in “Sluts and Riot Grrrls: Female Identity and Sexual Agency,” “By the twentieth century it [‘slut’] had become ‘a widespread term of abuse’ for women who did not ‘accept the double standards of society’” (233). These double standards being it was acceptable for a man to openly bed whomever he chose and a woman was immediately degraded for participating in similar acts. In “The Pleasure Principle,” a New York Times article written by Patricia Leigh Brown and Carol Pogash, an interviewee, Ms. Daedone states, “In our culture, women have been conditioned to have closed sexuality and open feelings, and men to have open sexuality and closed feelings. There’s this whole area of resistance and shame.” For men, emotion and intimacy do not seem to go hand-in-hand, and for some, intimacy is not included in sexual activities between men and women, or even same sex partners. In the 1968, a bra-burning occurred, and a year later, a feminist group known as Redstockings made this comment regarding female sexuality and the financial oppression: We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings, whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of violence (Strom 296). Women are sometimes seen as a means to an end—furthering the family line for instance. For some men, like Henry VIII, women were just that; not to be appreciated, but to be used for their bodies. But if a woman were to enjoy having sex, she would be called a whore or other choice terms. On the other hand, a good deal of woman have begun to stand up against the people who use these words as derogatory, and have transformed them into words of empowerment for the very woman that enjoys sex.

However, in recent years, the term ‘slut’ has taken on a new meaning—one that all women can take to heart. She is “‘a woman who takes her pleasure as a man does… without guilt or remorse’, one of the ‘sex-warriors, the independent owner-operators who bring great honor to our gender’” (235). Almost as if saying, “‘Yeah, I’m a slut. My body belongs to me. I sleep with who I want… I’m not your property’” (236). This is empowering because girls will learn from various kinds of women: fake women, real women, women in between (Angier 22). Girls should learn at a young age that they are beautiful no matter what and understand that as they mature, their sexuality will bloom and become a huge part of who they are and what they are about. Strom notes that “Modern-day women had often struggled for the freedom to explore their own sexuality and sexual pleasure,” however restrictions repress the ability to do so with the idea that “women who wished to avoid rape should stay home; if they went out at night or to the ‘wrong places,’ or wore the wrong clothing, they were often said to ‘deserve’ whatever they got” (298). No one deserves to have someone’s pleasure forced upon them, and to say that only shows how little society thinks of women.

In Natalie Angier’s essay, the author remarks that, Experience, after all, is a trustworthier friend than intuition. How many times do you have to encounter a man who reminds you of your cold, aloof, angry, hypercritical, and infinitely alluring father before you can recognize the phenotype in your sleep and know enough to keep your eyes and nose and hormones far, far away (20). The answer probably being once is enough. Hormones have not only a great deal to do with the attraction between individuals, but also the amounts of fat women and men have on their bodies. Angier states that women have a 27% average of fat, while men have approximately 15% (21). Due to ever-changing levels, women sometimes have more or less fat on their body. Society is constantly unsure how to handle this which leaves many females asking: Is there something wrong with me? Being comfortable in her body is part of a woman’s sexuality and if society is consistently questioning what amount of fat is attractive on females, then she needs to transcend society’s ideas and form her own. The New York Times interviewee, Ms. Daedone notes: “In our culture, admitting our bodies matter is almost an admission of failure. I don’t think women will really experience freedom until they own their sexuality.”

Women have every right in their world to express their sexuality. Being a women who is comfortable in her sexuality means that “‘you can be a bombshell and wear black panties and still be really smart’” (Attwood 239). Enjoying sex does not mean he/she is unintelligent and self-righteous—if anything, men and women should enjoy sex because it is not just for reproduction, but pleasure. If sex is supposed to be an intimate bond between people, a battle between men and women as to who is superior defeats the purpose and ultimately goes on to cause continual issues in social environments. Behind closed doors, women are just as likely as a man to ask for or demand sex—it does not make it better or worse, it just is. It is no body’s right to deprive “women of knowledge about their own bodies” (Strom 298). As Angier states, “The world needs your wild, pounding, dreaming heart” (23).


Works Cited

Angier, Natalie. “Estrogen, Desire, and Puberty.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing. Ed. Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, and Shane Borrowman. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River:    Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 14-23.

Attwood, Feona “Sluts and Riot Grrrls: Female Identity and Sexual Agency.” Journal of Gender Studies 16.3 (2007): 233-247. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Dec. 2009.

Brown, Patricia Leigh and Pogash, Carol.  “The Pleasure Principle.” New York Times  15  Mar. 2009, Late Edition (East Coast): New York Times, ProQuest. Web.  29 Nov. 2009.

Dietz, Mary G. “Current Controversies in Feminist Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science    6.1 (2003): 399-431. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Dec. 2009.

Strom, Sharon Hartman. Women’s Rights (Major Issues in American History). New York: Greenwood, 2003.