Hearing adjourned in Oakland Co. vaccination case

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

A court hearing over vaccinations was abruptly adjourned Thursday over a medical doctor’s qualifications to testify that vaccine’s aren’t always safe.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Karen McDonald will decide if Lori Matheson must obey a referee’s order that she vaccinate her 2-year-old daughter. Matheson’s ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, wants their daughter to get her childhood immunizations. The hearing will continue at 9 a.m. on Nov. 14.

It’s one of two vaccination cases underway in McDonald’s courtroom this month. The judge last week sentenced Rebecca Bredow to seven days in jail for disobeying a court order to vaccinate her son. At a court hearing on Wednesday, McDonald reduced Bedow’s custody rights. Both cases are in court because of custody battles between parents.

Vaccinations have become a contentious issue across the country, as some parents fear they may lead to autism in children — a theory that’s been debunked by mainstream scientists. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine have concluded there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children.

Matheson’s attorney, Amy Ruby, on Thursday asked McDonald to qualify Chicago-area pediatrician Toni Bark as an expert witness to testify on adverse reactions to vaccines. After numerous objections by the father’s attorney, Paul Schoenbeck, McDonald refused Ruby’s request.

Asked about her qualifications, Bark told the court she is an expert on “adversinomics,” the study of adverse reactions to vaccines. The doctor said she’d been qualified as an expert witness by courts in other states, as well as in Canada and Australia, and published an article on the topic in a Canadian medical journal.

McDonald was skeptical.

“It’s not my intent to disparage anybody but you can’t just put a doctor on the stand, not qualify her as an expert, and then ask her questions about vaccines,” McDonald told the mother’s attorney.

McDonald admonished Ruby for not properly presenting the doctor’s qualifications.

“I’m not even sure if adversinomics is a proper field of study, and you haven’t shown that,” McDonald said. “Do not come in here again without looking at the case law and the court rules and knowing what you’re doing. This is just not how I conduct court proceedings.”

Matheson wouldn’t comment about Thursday’s court session. But anti-vaccine protesters gathered in the courtroom appeared frustrated.

“I think the judge just doesn’t want to hear the other side,” said Caroline Smith, a member of of the group Michigan for Vaccine Choice.

About a dozen anti-vaccine protesters gathered outside the courthouse to show their support for both Matheson, and Bredow. Bredow ended up serving five days of her seven-day jail sentence.

Betty Kallis, of Birmingham, said she thinks parents should be able to decide whether to vaccinate their children.

“We need the right to choose which vaccines your child gets,” Kallis said. “Parents should have the right to selectively choose vaccines, delay vaccines or skip vaccines, based on their research and beliefs.

“Not everybody can eat peanuts, not everybody can eat soy, and not everybody can take 69 doses of 16 vaccines between birth and age 18.”

Peter Jacobson, professor emeritus of health law and policy at UM School of Public Health, said he isn’t surprised that vaccinations can be a divisive issue for some parents. He said the internet is flooded with untrue reports that stoke parents’ fears.

“If you have one parent spending his or her time on the web, or hearing more from the vaccine skeptics’ faction, it’s not surprising that people might be more afraid.”