Blacklisted British doctor sues journal

A British doctor who lost his medical license in the U.K. in 2010 and who was accused in a journal last year of publishing bogus research filed a defamation suit this week in the state District Court in Travis County, texas, U.S.A.

Andrew Wakefield, who lives in Austin and founded an autism center that was on Bee Cave Road, is suing the British Medical Journal; its editor, Dr. Fiona Godlee; and investigative journalist Brian Deer — all based in the United Kingdom. He is fighting a Jan. 5, 2011, journal article by Deer and an accompanying editorial by Godlee that called Wakefield's research on autism and a novel bowel disease fraudulent.

“The Defamatory Statements were and are false and written and published with actual malice and intended to cause damage to Dr. Wakefield's reputation and to permanently impair his reputation and livelihood,” says the suit, filed Tuesday. It seeks unspecified damages.

Deer told CNN Friday he has not received the petition, although he is aware of its existence. A statement on behalf of Deer and the British Medical Journal defended what had appeared in the journal previously, “While we await formal service, unsurprisingly the BMJ and Mr. Deer stand by the material published in the BMJ and their other statements and confirm that they have instructed lawyers to defend the claim vigorously.” Wakefield, who is seeking a jury trial, has a “history of pursuing unfounded litigation, (so) any action brought against the BMJ and Mr. Deer in London would have been immediately vulnerable to being struck out as an abuse of process,” an email from the journal says. Wakefield referred questions to his lawyer, William Parrish, who did not return calls Friday.

In a paper that appeared in the Lancet in 1998 and ultimately was retracted by the editors 12 years later, Wakefield suggested a link between a new kind of autism-bowel disease and the childhood measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The Lancet paper, and Wakefield's subsequent comments about it, set off a worldwide scare over the vaccine, known as MMR. Deer wrote in his article, “Secrets of the MMR Scare: How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine Was Fixed,” that Wakefield doctored his research to fit his theory, behaved dishonestly and was out to make money, including by participating in a lawsuit against the makers of MMR.

Wakefield has denied those claims. He has continued to stand behind the Lancet paper even after his co-authors disavowed it. The General Medical Council, which polices doctors in the U.K. and revoked Wakefield's license, said in 2010 that he was guilty of serious professional misconduct and was dishonest and irresponsible in the research he performed in 1998. Wakefield said after Deer's articles last year that he did nothing wrong or unethical. “My goal has always been and will remain the health and safety of children,” he said. He wrote a book, “Callous Disregard,” to present his evidence and vowed last year to continue his research into autism in Austin, working with pediatric gastroenterologist Arthur Krigsman at Krigsman's clinic on Cameron Road.

Krigsman and Wakefield resigned from the Thoughtful House Center for Children in 2010. Wakefield told The Dallas Morning News last year that he planned to open a residential program for autistic adults. The Thoughtful House has moved to 1700 Rio Grande St. and changed its name to the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin finds it surprising that Wakefield would launch this lawsuit in the United States instead of Great Britain, because with the freedom of the press, it's harder to win a libel suit of this nature in the U.S.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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Comments

  1. AutismNewsBeat AutismNewsBeat United States says:

    "CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin finds it surprising that Wakefield would launch this lawsuit in the United States instead of Great Britain, because with the freedom of the press, it's harder to win a libel suit of this nature in the U.S."

    Wakefield knows he can't win. It's about victimhood and martyrdom.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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