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The test case of Michelle Cedillo, argued in a special Federal “vaccine court” this week, explores autism’s potential link to the preservative thimerosal in vaccines administered to young children. The first few test cases of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington will decide the fate of some 5,000 other families, all of whom maintain that the mercury content of thimerosal, a preservative found in most measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines, caused their children to become severely autistic and to suffer from numerous other unrelated illnesses.

Cedillo’s mother asserted in Federal court that within days of being administered her MMR vaccines, Michelle suffered from high fever and autistic symptoms. Doctors subsequently evaluated her and suggested that she would need to be institutionalized because of her severe autism.

Numerous epidemiological studies on thimerosal and the link to autism have revealed no conclusive causal connection. Trenchant arguments aside, the burden of proof for these test cases is easier to meet than in traditional personal injury cases. Petitioners need only prove that it is “more likely than not” that the vaccines caused their injuries. Argument in the Cedillo case will last about a month, and then attorneys will proceed on to the next of nine overall test cases.

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