How many times do we hear, “Listen to the parents” on medical issues involving their autistic kids? Usually this comes from alternative medical groups who don’t have the science to back up the safety and efficacy of their therapies. What happens when a parent disagrees with these groups?
In Lawsuit against alternative medical practitioners Usman and Rossignal we discussed a father who has brought suit against prominent Defeat Autism Now (DAN) doctors Usman and Rossignol, and the laboratory Doctor’s Data.
Orac, at Respectful Insolence, has discussed this case as Suing DAN! practitioners for malpractice: It’s about time, where he uploaded the actual complaint.
In that complaint the father is alleging many things. High amongst them is the question of whether the “challenge” chelation tests are valid. These were used on his child and supposedly showed heavy metal poisoning. In a challenge chelation test, a chelator drug is given to a child before a urine test is taken. Chelators are designed to draw metals out of the body and allow them to be excreted through the urine (and other ways). There are no standardized references for metal contents in challenge testing. The American College of Medical Toxicology has made a very clear statement about challenge chelation testing. Here is their conclusion:
It is, therefore, the position of the American College of Medical Toxicology that post-challenge urinary metal testing has not been scientifically validated, has no demonstrated benefit, and may be harmful when applied in the assessment and treatment of patients in whom there is concern for metal poisoning.
Recall, challenge testing is noted in the lawsuit. From the section of claims against the Doctor’s Data (who are also defendants in the lawsuit):
The non-standardized method of testing that Defendant utilized on or about April 22, 2004, January 27, 2006, January 13, 2007, February 26, 2007, May 26, 2007, August 6, 2007, October 30, 2007, November 13, 2007, January 12, 2008, January 26, 2008, April 26, 2008, October 29, 2008, and March 27, 2009, wherein specimens were collected after the administration of a provoking agent and compared to unprovoked or unchallenged specimens was an improper method of determining whether A.J. had a potentially toxic level of heavy metals in his system
So, challenge chelation testing isn’t scientifically validated, has no benefit, but was used to justify certain therapies on this child. How did the Autism Research Institute respond to this? They blame the parent’s marital situation.
No, really, I’m not making this up. Rather than accept the complaints on their face and give this autism parent respect, they dismiss his multiple complaints as being…well, you read it:
Recent articles by ABC News and the Chicago Tribune on M.D.s who subscribe to the Defeat Autism Now! approach to treatment indicate the spread of misinformation and misunderstanding in recent months. The complaints about Drs. Usman and Rossignol resulted from a custody case—a painful situation for any family, one that can lead to accusations that must be sorted out in a court of law—not the media.
Yes, it isn’t because the father is really annoyed that he was told challenge chelation testing is valid, or that his family spent lots of money on testing and on chelation. It couldn’t be that the father has not seen benefit from these therapies. It isn’t any of that. It is a custody battle issue. For the record, the defendants in the case do not include his wife.
ARI defends their approach in rather vague terms:
The Defeat Autism Now! approach to autism invites the medical community to be more responsive, inquisitive, and knowledgeable about treating these disorders.
The approach is not in itself a source of controversy, since many treatment interventions are commonly prescribed by traditional health professionals.
My view differs from the ARI statement. It would seem to this observer that the approach is the source of controversy. From their own website:
The best diagnostic test for toxic metal overload is the chelation challenge test. The chelation drug is administered, followed by a timed urine test to help assess the body’s burden of toxic elements.
This is in direct contradiction to the statement from the American College of Toxicologists. The ARI approach (including challenge testing) is a key point of the lawsuit. I am not able to reconcile this with the idea that the “approach itself a source of controversy”.
The great problem is rather that chronic, unaddressed illness plagues many, if not most, of the children and adults on the autism spectrum. These conditions, thoroughly documented in the scientific literature, often involve the gastrointestinal system and/or the immune system, but the medical establishment has been professionally insensible to what is a desperate situation in the expanding autism population.
Odd. If anyone outside of the alternative medical community ever makes a statement that the is driven by “desperation”, they are sure to get jumped on.
The focus of the Defeat Autism Now! approach is twofold: to provide patients with allergen-free nutritional support, to uphold and to repair the immune system as needed, and, if appropriate, to reduce the body burden of environmental toxins; to provide clinicians in-depth medical and scientific information, with Continuing Medical Education credits.
There is the mention of what is a main crux of the lawsuit, “body burden of environmental toxins”. That’s it. No mention of challenge testing. They mention that the approach includes reducing “the body burden of environmental toxins”, but doesn’t address the key question: when is this approach “appropriate”. How is that decided? The challenge testing approach has not, to my knowledge, ever been defended in court.
The ARI press release doesn’t discuss the real questions here. Brushing this off as a custody issue is not doing anyone any good and is rather insulting to the parent bringing this suit forward and his child.
Photo by BLW Photography via Flickr