David Perry: Robert Kennedy Jr. compared autism to the Holocaust, wrongly tied it to vaccines
He says it's sad such a prominent Kennedy demeans people with autism
Editor’s Note: David M. Perry is a freelance journalist focusing on disability issues. He is author of the new book, “Sacred Plunder,” and associate professor of history at Dominican University. He writes regularly at the blog: How Did We Get Into This Mess? Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Recently, Robert Kennedy Jr. was in Sacramento, California, to campaign against Senate Bill 227, which makes it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinations. In his remarks at an anti-vaccination movie screening, he decided to compare “vaccine-induced” autism to the Holocaust. He said, “They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said. “This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”
A few days later, he apologized to people who were outraged on behalf of the memory of the Holocaust. To many, it’s sacrilege to compare any lesser issue to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.
In a statement, Kennedy said, “I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word to describe the autism epidemic. I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism, which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families.”
Robert Kennedy Jr. has apologized for the wrong things.
First and foremost, vaccines do not cause autism. The two have nothing to do with each other.
Second, he seems to think people with autism are “gone,” their lives “destroyed” and their families “shattered.” Autism is not a death sentence. People with autism are not missing or destroyed. They are everywhere, trying to live their lives in a society that too often demeans them as subhuman, missing or worthless.
Kennedy’s rhetoric is a problem, even beyond the fraudulent basis for his claims about vaccines. People who believe autism is an environmental disease try to cure kids with quack treatments like giving them bleach-based enemas. Others, believing autism functions as a death sentence, even kill their children.
I am worried about the effect of having such a powerful, high-profile member of our