When the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, approved the resolution “Protecting Children from Mercury-containing Drugs” on April 29th, it brought a new and commanding voice to the issue of mercury in medicine. Comprised of 992 international delegates, the General Conference is the top decision-making body of the United Methodist Church. In passing this resolution, the United Methodist Church affirms its commitment to safe vaccines and seeks to safeguard public confidence in vaccines and other drugs by advocating the removal of mercury from them.
Mercury is a known poison, neurotoxin, and carcinogen. Of particular concern, thimerosal, the mercury-based ‘preservative’ first patented in 1928, remains commonplace in some vaccines (including flu and tetanus shots) as well as other drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, used in the United States and abroad. With many published scientific, medical, toxicological, and epidemiological studies (some underwritten by pharmaceutical companies and government agencies) reaching opposite conclusions about the danger posed by mercury in the global drug supply, the United Methodist resolution brings a new religious and ethical perspective to this debate even as it brings this issue to the attention of a global community of concerned Christians.
With its passage, The United Methodist Church, with 11.5 million members around the world, becomes the largest global organization and the first faith community to advocate for mercury- free drugs. Because The United Methodist Church has a network of medical missions, clinics, and hospitals around the world, its leadership hopes that their expressed preference for mercury-free vaccines will cause other agencies involved in the delivery of healthcare, both in the United States and around the world, to examine this issue with great care. Early efforts, first led by the Rev. Lisa Sykes and other parents of mercury-injured children, brought their well-researched concerns about mercury in medicine to the attention of their local churches and annual conferences. Ms. Julie Taylor, Executive Secretary for Children, Youth, and Family Advocacy, within the Women’s Division, explained:
“As part of its history, the organization of United Methodist Women has advocated for the health and education of women and children. Because of their faith and since the turn of the century, the women have sought to raise awareness and provide assistance for these areas of concern, both in this country and around the world. Undertaking the issue of mercury in vaccines and other drugs is just one expression of that faith and commitment. Today’s women are advocating for safe vaccines. They want children to be protected from diseases but they also want that to occur in as safe a manner as possible. Getting mercury out of vaccines is one way to do that.”
A number of factors underscore why this issue has ascended through the structures of The United Methodist Church so quickly. The first is that this issue is consistent with both the history and the doctrine of the denomination. Affirmed in the United Methodist Book of Discipline is the church’s great commitment to social justice: “The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.”
Of particular concern to the church is the demonstrated toxicity of mercury. In addition, the parents of mercury-injured children were especially troubled by the government’s inaction on the issue of infant exposure to thimerosal in vaccines: “Thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines is likely related to the autism epidemic. This epidemic in all probability may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA not been asleep at the switch regarding the lack of safety data regarding injected thimerosal and the sharp rise of infant exposure to this known neurotoxin. Our public health agencies’ failure to act is indicative of institutional malfeasance for self-protection and misplaced protection-ism of the pharmaceutical industry.”
“I hasten to add, however, that based on the publicly available information…it appears there may be sufficient evidence to find a substantial likelihood of a substantial and specific danger to the public health caused by the use of thimerosal/ mercury in vaccines because of its inherent toxicity.”
The United Methodist Church is also concerned about the denial of informed consent whenever mercury is administered as a part of a pharmaceutical product to any patient, especially an unborn or newborn child. Finally, there is one other fascinating aspect of United Methodism’s landmark involvement in this issue: the Simpsonwood Meeting which took place June 7–8, 2000. At this meeting, which was held at Simpsonwood United Methodist Retreat Center, carefully selected members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and the World Health Organization, met with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry behind closed doors. Without any notice in the federal register, this meeting was called to discuss the Verstraeten Study (named after its lead author) which showed an association between the mercury children received in their vaccines and several serious harmful outcomes. The Simpsonwood meeting was held 3 weeks before congressional investigative hearings into the conflicts of interest between pharmaceutical companies and government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began. Vaccine safety advocates, who oppose the use of mercury in vaccines, have long charged that the meeting which took place at Simpsonwood was illegal and collusive. Because of a transcript obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the public is becoming increasingly aware that those attending the meeting expressed great alarm behind closed doors about thimerosal-containing vaccines:
“…we have found statistically significant relationships between the exposures and outcomes… First, for two months of age, an unspecified developmental delay… Exposure at three months of age, tics. Exposure at six months of age, an attention deficit disorder. Exposure at one, three and six months of age, language and speech delays… Exposure at one, three and six months of age, the entire category of neurodevelopmental delays, which includes all of these plus anumber of other disorders.”
—Dr. Thomas Verstraeten, CDC.
“(the study) leads me to favor a recommendation that infants up to two years old not be immunized with thimerosal containing vaccines… My gut feeling? It worries me enough. Forgive this personal comment, but I got called out at eight o’clock, and my daughter-in-law delivered a son. Our first male in the next generation, and I do not want that grandson to get a thimerosal-containing vaccine until we know better what is going on.”
—Dr. Richard Johnston, University of Colorado.
Before the Verstraeten study was presented to the Institute of Medicine in 2001 and 2004, it was revised multiple times, until the associations between mercury and these adverse outcomes disappeared.
The General Conference resolution is a first step toward addressing what happened at Simpsonwood, and more importantly, it is a first step toward addressing what is happening to the children in an age when 1 in every 150 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and 1 in every 6 children now has a developmental disorder or a behavioral problem. To weary advocates, especially the parents of mercury-injured children who have often despaired that the public would ever learn the truth about mercury in medicine, the General Conference resolution has given real and tangible hope.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #21.
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