Are Jenny McCarthy’s Views Too Controversial For “The View”?

Daytime talk show “The View” is undergoing some dramatic changes this season. Original panelist Joy Behar is leaving at the end of the season, conservative Elisabeth Hasselbeck has already moved to Fox and Friends, and even founder Barbara Walters is set to retire at the end of the year.

But the biggest controversy seems to be who will be replacing Hasselbeck — former Playboy model, actress and MTV host-  Jenny McCarthy. Walters officially annouced McCarthy’s hire last week.

The backlash against the choice was swift.

McCarthy has been a vocal critic of immunizations, claiming that her 11-yr-old son Evan had autism caused by a measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, and that she was able to “cure” him using a gluten-free diet.

Besides anecdotal experience, McCarthy’s evidence is primarily based on the now debunked work of British intestinal specialist Andrew Wakefield. His infamous 1998 paper in the Lancet has been retracted by the journal after the British Medical Journal debunked it as “an elaborate medical fraud”. His medical license has subsequently been revoked.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an American non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1970, under the congressional charter of the National Academy of Sciences. Its purpose is to provide national advice on issues relating to biomedical science, medicine, and health, and its mission to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of IOM has extensively reviewed all the information related to MMR, thimerisol (a preservative previously used in some vaccines) and autism. Their report concludes that there is no evidence that either MMR or thimerisol CAUSES autism.

Jenny McCarthy In Her Own Words

In an interview with CNN, April, 2008:

“We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, “What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.”

“We believe autism is an environmental illness. Vaccines are not the only environmental trigger, but we do think they play a major role. If we are going to solve this problem and finally start to reverse the rate of autism, we need to consider changing the vaccine schedule, reducing the number of shots given and removing certain ingredients that could be toxic to some children.”

Huffington Post, January 2011:

“I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son. Why aren’t there any tests out there on the safety of how vaccines are administered in the real world, six at a time?”

On from a speech at the National Autism Association convention:

“Take the crap out. Get rid of the ether, the antifreeze, the mercury, the aluminum…They’re just cheap preservatives. I’d pay four times as much for a clean vaccine!”

The Backlash

Michael Specter, science editor for the New Yorker, wrote:

“McCarthy will be the show’s first co-host whose dangerous views on childhood vaccination may – if only indirectly – have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world,”

“Executives at ABC should be ashamed of themselves for offering McCarthy a regular platform on which she can peddle denialism and fear to the parents of young children who may have legitimate questions about vaccine safety.”

Slate‘s Phil Plait, the creator of Bad Astronomy:

“McCarthy’s views constitute, in my opinion, a threat to public health. She is loudly against vaccines, claiming they cause autism, claiming they are loaded with toxins, and claiming her own son became autistic after a vaccination and that she subsequently cured him with a gluten-free diet.”

Plait refers to the website Anit-Vaccine Body Count (formerly called Jenny McCarthy Body Count), which tracks the number of potentially preventable illnesses and deaths in unvaccinated people since 2007 when McCarthy first began talking about the issue. He cites this as possible evidence that McCarthy’s words could have serious consequences:

Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, a board-certified family physician told FOX News:

“While Jenny cannot deliver direct medical advice, she is definitely influencing many young mothers as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of child care and immunizations. I suspect she will get a lot of pushback, which may be exactly what a show like ‘The View’ wants.”

What do you think?

The View has an audience of 3 million viewers, many of whom are women and many of whom are parents.

Known for its lively discussions about hot issues, it seems that the issues of vaccines and autism will probably come up at some time. Does giving McCarthy a national platform for her position validate it in some way?

Do you think ABC was wrong in hiring McCarthy?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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