This is Autism Awareness Month and it is doubtful that it was by coincidence that Doctor Andrew Wakefield accidentally chose this month to release his film Vaxxed. Wakefield maintains his claim that there is a link between vaccinations and the alarming rise in the rate of autism.

The scientific world disagrees with Wakefield and view him as a danger to society. This may well be true, but there is also the valid argument to be made that it is Big Pharma that funds a great deal of the research in the medical world and they do not do it out of the goodness of their heart, there is a ‘for profit’ aspect.

But there has to be a cause for the increase in autism. I went knocking on doors.

I started with Dr. Silvio Aladjem. As a now retired obstetrician and Maternal-Fetal Medicine
specialist he was the ideal person to start the conversation. Sure we got a little off the subject, but I think it is still pertinent so have kept out conversation in tact:


I have many strange friends, with many strange theories. I’d like to bounce a couple of them off you as you seem in the perfect position to offer some insight.

The GMO v Organic battle. This is a big and sprawling discussion. Do GMO foods have a health danger? My answer is probably not directly. However there are some potential problems. Should Aquabounty GMO Salmon ever make it to the wild, it would almost certainly be a disaster for the natural Salmon population.

I don’t have much against GMO. Basically these products are supposed to increase productivity, be disease resistant and, so far, no real problems have been seen. We are all consuming many such products and most of us have no idea they are GMO. As long as such products are closely scrutinized, it’s ok.

I have some concerns about Aquabounty. They have created a new species of salmon ,trout and talapia which are sterile and do not reproduce, ( which is good) and  are larger than the natural occurring fish of the same kind. Here is my problem: the fact that they are sterile does not mean. in absolute terms, that these new species may not adapt, evolve and if released freely in the oceans, lakes or rivers, may create havoc that we can’t predict.  Evolution and nature can’t be ignored and opening a Pandora’s box should make us think twice.

A more urgent issue might be Monsanto’s Round-up Ready seeds. As I understand it the resulting plants are NOT pest resistant (as is often claimed), but is resistant to the application of pesticide. This has led to weeds becoming ‘super weeds’, that through natural evolution have developed a tolerance to Round-up. Thus setting up an arms race.

There are also many questions unanswered concerning the sterility of the plants and them contaminating other crops of non-GMO stock. There are numerous court cases on this subject.

I have no knowledge about the Round-up product. But I think your concerns are right and I subscribe to them.

Changing subject, vaccinations. Although discredited, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study claiming a link between vaccinations and autism has many followers. One of my more eclectic friends also sees a link between technology and autism. I don’t really buy into either idea. However I do question the need for the enormous number of vaccinations that a baby/toddler faces.

People don’t understand vaccines and therefore they are surrounded by mystery and fear. You have to look at this issue in terms of risk and benefits ratio. All vaccines have some side effects. Forget autism, there is not a  shred of evidence that any vaccine –and I underline “any”- that have shown to produce or predispose to autism.  One has to look at the potential risks and compare to the risk of not being vaccinated. Regarding kids, all the diseases they protect against are potentially either deadly (ex: diphtheria, tetanus) or potentially crippling (ex:  polio) or both. For adults, flu vaccines  may give you some reaction (will never give you the flu, as many say as an excuse) but not taking  the vaccine, you may catch the flu. Flu is  not benign. In the pandemic of 1918 millions and millions died of flu. The Hongkong flu in the 60’s killed millions as well. Even in a mild year in the US alone thousands will die. Unfortunately there are so many types of “flu” (swine, avian, etc.) that having had the flu does not protect you for getting a different type of flu. So that’s why the CDC projects what the next type of flu we will have this year and the vaccine manufacturers develop the vaccine for that year. So the issue is:  do you want to take the risk of dying or the risk of having a sore arm and may be some malaise from the flu vaccine.  Is there any doubt about what one should do?

Another area of concern is the ‘designer baby’. Manipulating DNA to produce the ideal child with the traits you wish. I can see the reasoning for fixing the genetic faults, propensity for cancer or other problems that are being carried by the parents. That makes sense. But at what point does it become an ethical dilemma?

This is a hot issue. “Designer babies” should not be allowed. On larger scale, one could conceivably see that the natural balance of humanity could be affected. Can you imagine, for the sake of argument, that everybody decided to have tall, blonde, males with blue eyes. Taking the argument to extreme, with no females how is that generation going to reproduce?

I think tinkering with the genetic code of an individual –in case of future babies without their consent- is unethical and immoral. Don’t fool mother nature. Even the most hardheaded scientist will have to admit that no one really knows what inserting a gene or choosing one gene as opposed to another, will do to the genetic pool.  This position is not the result of fear –although fear should enter your mind- but on pure scientific data. It’s unpredictable.

The same should be true for cloning.

Just because it can be done, does not mean we have to do it nor does it justify it.



Yes Maybe I spiked the questions, but it was my adventure so I don’t feel any guilt.

More in part three.

Simon Barrett

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