197164 How the History of Autism Spectrum Disorders Can Improve an Understand of Public Health Ethics

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 11:10 AM

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH , Department of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA
Craig J. Newschaffer, PhD, MS , Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA
Research into the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are as old as the diagnosis, first named by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943. More than a half-century of research has offered explanations, from psychiatric to biological to environmental, for the disorder. Some claims related to etiology and treatment have been inaccurate and harmful. In the 1960s the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim blamed autistic behaviors on what he termed “refrigerator mothers,” or mothers who were emotionally distant. Bettelheim's treatments were later shown to be fraudulent and sometimes abusive of children and their families. More recently, inaccurate assertions that childhood vaccination caused an epidemic rise in ASDs have triggered potentially dangerous drops in vaccine rates in locations in the United States and United Kingdom. The growing scientific consensus is that the disorder has complex etiologies likely involving gene-environment interactions yet to be identified. Given the history of speculation regarding the etiology of ASD, and of the deleterious impact of some of this speculation on public health safety, stakeholders have ethical obligations to insure that research in this area continues and that research findings are communicated to the public in an accurate and coherent manner. Drawing on the history of the ASD diagnosis, this presentation will identify the ethical failures of both past research and the communication of that research to the public, and suggest ways to ethically conduct and communicate ASD research to the general population. The presentation will also identify how historical methods are particularly useful to furthering this area of inquiry.

Learning Objectives:
- Understand the history of the autism diagnosis and the impact of that history on current research into the causes of autism. - Describe some of the ethical failings in past autism research and identify how an understanding of these failings can improve public health ethics in this area of inquiry. - Discuss the use and utility of historical methods in public health ethics research.

Keywords: History, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Doctoral and Masters training in history, public health, and genetics. Ongoing research program on autism, history, and ethics.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.