The National Autistic Society

Vernon Coleman

I sent the following letter to the National Autistic Society at the end of March 2007.

To The Director, National Autistic Society

Dear National Autistic Society,
I see that a drug company which makes MMR vaccine is one of your financial supporters (and has been since 2003). I understand that the company has, for example, paid for mailing to over 4,000 GP surgeries with information about autism.

Since there is a huge debate ongoing about whether or not autism is caused by the MMR vaccine I would be interested to hear the society's explanation for accepting this funding.

Do you not feel that by accepting money from GlaxoSmithKline you are abandoning your independence, your reputation and your value to autistic patients and their carers?

I ask these questions as a medical author as well as a registered general practitioner.
Yours sincerely

Dr Vernon Coleman


On the 16th April I received a reply from Benet Middleton, the society's Direcctor of Communications.

Here's what the society said:

`The question of who to accept funding from is often a difficult issue for all charities, not just the NAS. On the one hand we have to be aware of the issues you raise around reputation and independence and on the other we have to ensure that we generate the income required to provide the support, advice, advocacy and awareness raising that are so vitally needed.'

`Our Board of Trustees adopted a stance that we would not work with any company that acted illegally or acted in contravention to our charitable objectives, in part to reflect that everyone has their own personal ethics and views and it would be impossible to act on all of these. However, in addition we will not enter into partnerships that will have a detrimental effect on people with autism or our reputation.'

`In this case we have accepted money from GSK for a number of small projects, including a GP mailing to raise awareness of autism last year. None of these projects have had any link to anything we have said on the MMR vaccine and GSK have never raised this topic with us. Furthermore, the overall funding to date amounts to such a tiny percentage of our income that it could not possibly influence our position on this topic when stacked up against the support we receive from people living with autism.'


Here is my reply:

Dear Benet Middleton,
The National Autistic Society isn't alone.

Many large and successful charities and organisations set up to help people with specific health problems, accept money from drug companies. It is no surprise that drug companies usually fund organisations which deal with problems appropriate to their products. But, not being entirely stupid, the drug companies never bring up the important issues in any direct way. The fact is, however, that they know that a charity which takes money from a drug company will be compromised and that whatever the charity says will be tainted. Do you honestly believe that the National Autistic Society can now ever produce any worthwhile contribution to the debate on the link between vaccination and autism?

Many people (me included) believe that many or even most cases of autism are a result of brain damage caused by vaccination. For the National Autistic Society to accept money from a drug company which produces a vaccine which has been linked to autism in this way seems to me to be extraordinarily immoral.

The Society seems to be claiming that it hasn't accepted very much money from GlaxoSmithKline and that it is not, therefore, compromised by this association.

So, how much money will GlaxoSmithKline have to give before the National Autistic Society is compromised by the association? How many other drug companies contribute to the Society?

(I note, incidentally, that in your letter you refer not to GlaxoSmithKline (the name of the drug company) but simply to GSK - as though not printing out the full name of the company will somehow make the link less embarrassing.)

Personally, I feel that a hooker who charges 5 for sex is no less a hooker than a hooker who charges 1,000.

This correspondence will appear on my website and in a forthcoming book.

Yours sincerely

Dr Vernon Coleman

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2007