Generation Rescue is a nonprofit organization that advocates the view that autism and related disorders are primarily caused by environmental factors, particularly vaccines. These claims are biologically implausible and lack convincing scientific evidence. The group gained widespread attention through use of an aggressive media campaign, including sponsoring full page ads in the New York Times and USA Today. Today, Generation Rescue is known as a platform for Jenny McCarthy's autism and anti-vaccine advocacy.
The organization was established in 2005 by Lisa and J.B. Handley and 150 volunteer "Rescue Angels" that included many members of the biomedical treatment movement at the time. Beginning in the spring of 2005 and running through January 2007, Generation Rescue began a national media campaign in the US, placing advertisements in such publications as USA Today. More recently it has been fronted by Jenny McCarthy, an author, television personality and former Playboy model. Jim Carrey, during his relationship with McCarthy, also promoted Generation Rescue.
Causes of autism
Generation Rescue believes that autism and other developmental issues are caused by environmental factors. Its members primarily blame vaccines, the increase in the number of vaccines administered, and thiomersal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative. Generation Rescue claims that biomedical intervention can help children recover. The hypotheses that vaccines, such as MMR, or thiomersal cause autism are not supported by scientific evidence, nor are claims that diets or drugs can cure autism. Because of Generation Rescue's public profile through national advertising and because its point of view is not shared by the mainstream medical community, its message has been controversial and the organization has been described as anti-vaccine.
Claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism, promoted by Andrew Wakefield, were declared in January 2011 to be based on manipulated data and fraudulent research. Parental concerns over vaccines have led, in turn, to decreased immunization rates and an increased incidence of whooping cough and measles, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease. Generation Rescue issued a statement that the "media circus" following the revelation of fraud and manipulation of data was "much ado about nothing". Salon.com responded to Generation Rescue's statement with:
|“||But any organization using a celebrity to mislead parents with claims of "new" data that rely on decade-old vaccine formulas and schedules is more than disingenuous, it's flat-out dangerous.||”|
It maintains three websites: Generation Rescue, Fourteen Studies.org, and PutChildrenFirst. Generation Rescue details the organization’s points of view described above. PutChildrenFirst alleges a cover-up by the Centers for Disease Control concerning the role that vaccines have played in recent increases in the number of reported autism cases.
Lack of peer-reviewed research
Generation Rescue bases much of their case on publications that do not go through a proper peer review process. In particular, an article Generation Rescue publishes in its website, "Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning" appeared in Medical Hypotheses, a journal without scientific peer review; the hypothesis has not been confirmed by credible scientific evidence. In addition, Generation Rescue released a phone survey in 2007 which, they claimed, demonstrated that vaccinated children were more than 2.5 times as likely to develop autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than were unvaccinated children; however, this study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and its methodology has been sharply criticized.
According to the BMJ, the implication the MMR vaccine is linked to autism "relied on parental recall and beliefs … epidemiological studies consistently found no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. By the time the paper was finally retracted 12 years later, after forensic dissection at the General Medical Council's (GMC) longest ever fitness to practise hearing, few people could deny that it was fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically."
Promotion of quack treatments
Generation Rescue co-sponsors an annual conference in Chicago along with another charity, Autism One. The choice of speakers at these conferences have led critics to accuse both organizations of promoting unproven therapies and harmful quackery.
Generation Rescue and Autism One have been criticized for including self-employed Maryland physician Mark Geier at their conference, despite the Maryland State Board of Physicians having suspended Geier's medical license. The board stated that Geier "endangers autistic children and exploits their parents by administering to the children a treatment protocol that has a known substantial risk of serious harm and which is neither consistent with evidence-based medicine nor generally accepted in the relevant scientific community." The board ruled that Geier misdiagnosed patients, diagnosed patients without sufficient tests, recommended treatments without fully explaining the risks to parents, and misrepresented his credentials. Geier lost his medical licenses in Washington, Virginia, and California shortly thereafter; he has also seen his licenses revoked and/or suspended in Florida, Indiana, and Hawaii.
Speakers at the conference from 2012 onwards have been Kerri Rivera and Andreas Ludwig Kalcker, who have both promoted the Miracle Mineral Solution, or MMS, a liquid product containing chlorine dioxide that they claim have cured thirty-eight children of autism. Several bloggers criticized the presentation, noting that MMS consists of the same chemical compound as industrial strength bleach and was thus potentially harmful to children being given the product, both orally and through enemas. MMS has been subject to a warning by the FDA, and by government health agencies in the United Kingdom and Belgium; MMS was banned outright in Canada in February 2012.
Disassociation of cited researchers
Generation Rescue's second New York Times advertisement had to undergo one alteration due to one scientist who asked to be removed from the ad. Also, after the ad ran, several of the scientists thanked in the ad wanted to disassociate their work from the mercury/autism connection. This group of scientists wrote: "we believe Generation Rescue’s advertisement, at first appearance an innocuous gesture of appreciation, may actually mislead the public into thinking that the mercury–autism hypothesis has stronger support in the scientific literature than it actually does."
Generation Rescue has asserted that countries that require fewer infant vaccines have lower infant mortality rates. However, this has been criticized as "rhetorical sleight of hand": in the U.S., a country that requires more vaccines than most, the infant mortality rate declined 50% from 1966 to 1981, during which the number of vaccines increased.
Poor taste in responding to critics
Generation Rescue and its staff has been accused of exhibiting poor taste when responding to critics and journalists who have brought up the above points of criticism. After Wired magazine published journalist Amy Wallace's profile on Generation Rescue critic Paul Offit, Generation Rescue founder J. B. Handley wrote an essay titled "Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine." The essay implied that Offit had slipped Wallace "a date-rape drug." Wallace made an argument that the implication was sexist.
- "Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey's autism organization – Generation Rescue". Retrieved 2009-05-08.
- "About vaccines". Generation Rescue. Archived from the original on May 4, 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-26.[dead link]
- Vaccines and autism:
- Doja A, Roberts W (2006). "Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature". Can J Neurol Sci 33 (4): 341–6. PMID 17168158.
- Gerber JS, Offit PA (2009). "Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses". Clin Infect Dis 48 (4): 456–61. doi:10.1086/596476. PMC 2908388. PMID 19128068. Lay summary – IDSA (2009-01-30).[dead link]
- Gross L (2009). "A broken trust: lessons from the vaccine–autism wars". PLoS Biol 7 (5): e1000114. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000114. PMC 2682483. PMID 19478850.
- Offit PA (2007). "Thimerosal and vaccines—a cautionary tale". N Engl J Med 357 (13): 1278–9. doi:10.1056/NEJMp078187. PMID 17898096.
- Paul R (2009). "Parents ask: am I risking autism if I vaccinate my children?". J Autism Dev Disord 39 (6): 962–3. doi:10.1007/s10803-009-0739-y. PMID 19363650.
- "USA Today Ad". Generation Rescue website. Archived from the original on April 14, 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- Coombes R (2009). "Vaccine disputes" (PDF). BMJ 338: b2435. doi:10.1136/bmj.b2435. PMID 19546136. Retrieved 2009-11-08.
- "Is it the mercury?". Generation Rescue. Retrieved 2009-10-26.[dead link]
- "Treatment: what's biomedical treatment?". Generation Rescue. Retrieved 2009-10-26.[dead link]
- Claims of autism cures:
- Christison GW, Ivany K (2006). "Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorders: any wheat amidst the chaff?". J Dev Behav Pediatr 27 (2 Suppl 2): S162–71. doi:10.1097/00004703-200604002-00015. PMID 16685183.
- Broadstock M, Doughty C, Eggleston M (2007). "Systematic review of the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder". Autism 11 (4): 335–48. doi:10.1177/1362361307078132. PMID 17656398.
- Jenny McCarthy Body Count
- Miller, Nick (2010-02-04). "Debunking the link between autism and vaccination". The Age (Melbourne).
- "Anatomy of a Scare", Sharon Begley, Newsweek, February 21, 2009
- "Swine Flu Shots Revive a Debate About Vaccines", Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, October 15, 2009
- Godlee F, Smith J, Marcovitch H (2011). "Wakefield's article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent". BMJ. 342:c7452: c7452. doi:10.1136/bmj.c7452. PMID 21209060.
- Deer B (2011). "How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed". BMJ 342: c5347. doi:10.1136/bmj.c5347. PMID 21209059.
- "Study linking vaccine to autism was fraud". NPR. Associated Press. January 5, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2011.[dead link]
- "Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds". Atlanta: CNN. January 6, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
- Lin RG II (2008-05-02). "Rise in measles prompts concern". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-11-04.
- "Jenny McCarthy's Generation Rescue". Generation Rescue. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
- Williams, Mary Elizabeth (January 6, 2011). "Jenny McCarthy's autism fight grows more misguided". Retrieved January 7, 2011.
- "PutChildrenFirst.org". 2006-11-12. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
- Bernard S, Enayati A, Redwood L, Roger H, Binstock T (2001). "Autism: a novel form of mercury poisoning" (PDF). Med Hypotheses 56 (4): 462–71. doi:10.1054/mehy.2000.1281. PMID 11339848. Retrieved 2009-11-27.[dead link]
- "Vaccinated Children Two And A Half Times More Likely To Have Neurological Disorders Like ADHD And Autism, New Survey In California And Oregon Finds". Medical News Today. 27 June 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
- Gorski, David (27 June 2007). "Fun with phone surveys and vaccines". ScienceBlogs. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
- AutismOne / Generation Rescue Conference 2012, AutismOne.org, May 2012
- AutismOne throws their support behind the Geiers in “Autism Science Digest”, LeftBrainRightBrain.co.uk, 16 June 2011
- Board order
- 38 Children Recovered in 20 months: Autism Treatment with MMS, AutismOne.org, 27 May 2012
- Bleaching away what ails you, ScienceBasedMedicine.org, 28 May 2012
- MMS, or how to cure autism with bleach. Brought to you by AutismOne, LeftBrainRightBrain.co.uk, 29 May 2012
- Sodium Chlorite Solution Not Authorized for Oral Consumption by Humans, Health Canada, 15 February 2012
- "General confusion and the NYT". Autism Diva. 2005-11-25. Retrieved 2009-11-27.
- Katz D (2009). "The missing link between vaccines and autism" (PDF). Fraser Forum (07/09): 22–5. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
- Wallace, Amy. "Life as a Female Journalist: Hot or Not?" New York Times. 19 January 2014. 23 January 2014.
- GenerationRescue.org - Organisation's Website
- Jenny McCarthy Body Count - A website critical of Jenny McCarthy's campaign
- Mothering.com[dead link] - 'Is the American Academy of Pediatrics losing credibility with parents and pediatricians?' Bobby Manning, Mothering (October, 2005)
- ScienceDaily.com[dead link] - 'The Age of Autism: Heavy metal', Dan Olmsted, UPI' (May 24, 2005)
- SFGate.com - 'A child's return from autism: Couple eager to share their conviction that mercury poisoning was the culprit' Leslie Fulbright, San Francisco Chronicle (May 25, 2005)
- "The Vaccine War", PBS FRONTLINE documentary, April 27, 2010