It’s always been a mystery to me how President Reagan, generally known for his suspicion of unchecked governmental power, could have signed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which established the so-called “Vaccine Court.” To the parents of many children with autism, this legislation is the direct cause of the autism epidemic.
While researching my new book, INOCULATED: How Science Lost Its Soul in Autism, I came across the answer in the pages of the New York Times. (Full disclosure – In my younger days I was a “Youth Delegate for Reagan” to the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas. Forgive me. I was young and foolish.) In an article by Robert Pear, which was published on November 15, 1986, in the New York Times entitled, “Reagan Signs Bill on Drug Exports and Payment for Vaccine Injuries,” (and easily accessible through a simple Google search), Reagan laid out his thoughts.
“Mr. Reagan said he had approved the bill with ‘mixed feelings’ because he had ‘serious reservations’ about the vaccine compensation program. . . The program would be “administered not by the executive branch, but by the Federal judiciary,” Mr. Reagan said, calling it an “unprecedented arrangement” that was inconsistent with the constitutional requirement for separation of powers among the branches of the Federal Government. . . The Justice Department had urged a veto of the bill because of its objections to the new system of compensating people injured by vaccines. But Vice president Bush, Commerce Secretary Malcom Baldridge and Dr. Otis R. Bowen, Secretary of Health and Human Services, urged Mr. Reagan to sign it, as did James A. Baker, Secretary of the Treasury. . . Mr. Reagan said he hoped that Congress, in adopting any excise tax, [author’s note – the tax on each vaccination which pays for the vaccine injury compensation fund which had not yet been finalized in the legislation.] would also make ‘corrective’ changes in the framework of the vaccine program to address his objection.”
Reagan Had Serious Reservations…
There is so much in that paragraph to dissect, but if we break it down it is simple to see the fault lines that have come to so divide people in the thirty years since the passage of this bill. To begin with, Reagan had “serious reservations” about signing the bill. He thought it an “unprecedented arrangement” that was “inconsistent with the constitutional requirement for separation of powers among the branches of the Federal government.” For those who are unfamiliar with the reasoning behind the concept of separation of powers, let me explain it very simply. People lie. People cheat. We’d like human nature to be better than that, but it’s not. And sometimes to those people lying and cheating they don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’re trying to protect a friend, their job, maybe even the department for which they work. It’s human nature. We bond with those people closest to us and try to protect them and what they care about.
That’s why it’s important to have other people, not in our immediate circle, watching over our actions to make sure we’re not falling into that sort of corruption. Policemen are for the most part, brave public servants and valuable members of our society. But power has its temptations. That’s why every police department needs to have an Internal Affairs Department of public watchdog group. Even the police cannot be trusted to “self-police” themselves.
Can there be a warning flag any more dramatic as when the article notes that the Justice Department recommended a veto of this legislation? Think about it. The Justice Department is usually filled with young and passionate lawyers (and probably at the time those who had a greater reverence for the Constitution), often from the best law schools, and when they were asked to look at this law and how it might work in practice, gave it a thumbs down. They considered centuries of legal history and experience in creating a justice system and whether those various schemes actually delivered on their promise, and found the set-up of the Vaccine Court to be lacking.
Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California was the main sponsor and guiding force of this legislation, but he had significant Republican support with Vice-President George H. W. Bush and James Baker, who at one time was Reagan’s chief of staff. As so many in our country today find themselves frustrated with both political parties, it is important to note that both political parties contributed to this disaster. This is not a Republican problem. It is not a Democratic problem. It is an American problem.
Everybody made mistakes, from the parent groups who backed this bill, to the President who signed the legislation into law. But it also important to note that the President who signed the bill had significant reservations about it, and actually asked for those problems to be fixed. That has been forgotten as those who continue to point out the flaws in the Vaccine Court are treated as if they are transgressing divine law handed down by the Creator. This tragedy was created by humanity. Humanity can fix it. We just all need to work together.