Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dangerous Interventions: MMS and Autism

Emily Willingham
biologyfiles.fieldofscience.com

Last week we became aware that a protocol for "treating" autism, called MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution), was presented at the most recent AutismOne conference. The convoluted science behind this "solution" would be enough to turn many people off, but the actual "treatment" is so abhorrent we wanted to make sure that people know the background of MMS. Warning: the links in this post may be a trigger because many of them point to communities that equate autism with damaged goods. -JBM

AutismOne has a history of providing a platform for dubious “practioners” to showcase potentially harmful wares to a willing audience. The peddlers at this conference are no different from any other pseudoscience-pusher, including the fact that they are more than willing to take advantage of the pop culture fascination with autism, and induce a gullible audience to part ways with their money, regardless of how ineffectual, or dangerous, their products may be.

The autism community is a vulnerable one for many reasons, but none are more vulnerable than the autistic children on whom parents experiment with these “treatments.” We’ve seen extreme examples before, including chelation, chemical castration, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, all featured at AutismOne. All unproven as therapies for autism and potentially damaging, even deadly. It’s certainly a cognitive disconnect to blame autism on safety-tested medical interventions, that are enormously effective and have no scientific link to autism, but then to turn to flatly dangerous and even deadly interventions that have undergone no testing of any kind--and experiment with them in children.

With the appearance of “chemical castration” or fatal chelation, one would think that we’ve already hit the nadir of experimental “curatives” for autism, but there’s yet another, lower point. Now we have a cadre of three people who seem to have determined that autism is The Next Big Thing for their “curative” of choice, a solution that is essentially industrial-strength bleach. This year’s AutismOne conference featured a presenter who told the audience that she has directed parents to use bleach in the bodies of autistic children.

Before you read on, I have to warn you that what I describe here is child abuse and tantamount to torture of autistic children. It is harrowing and horrifying.

Before you read further or when you’ve finished reading, I encourage you to please click over and sign this Change.org petition that TPGA co-editor and co-founder Jennifer Byde Myers and I started, asking the FDA to issue cease-and-desist orders against those shilling this bleach solution as an “autism cure” in the United States. We also have included the Federal Trade Commission in the petition, as they have some jurisdiction over trans-border sales, and at least one of their group resides in Mexico, where she peddles to local families.

First, a brief history: A man named Jim Humble seems to have realized that if you cynically and wantonly make the right false promises, you can sell anything to almost anyone, especially when a hot-button disorder or disease is involved. So, he decided that he would sell a bleach solution to people to “treat” a host of unrelated conditions, from malaria to flu, and now, autism. He’s reasonably effective as a salesman, but he didn’t stop there. Humble actually has a church (“non-religious” !), all centered around shilling bleach solution as a cure-all the world over. His sweep is international, and his acolytes who go forth and share the Word of Humble appear to number in the hundreds.

The church--dubbed Genesis 2--focuses on proselytizing use of Humble’s bleach solution, initially called Miracle Mineral Solution but now dubbed MMS. The Genesis 2 church “ordains” people at different levels of the church hierarchy, including as “ministers of health.” And it seems that in the last year or so, Humble has joined forces with two other people in this “church” to target the autism community, hawking this bleach solution as a cure for autism. Joining Archbishop Humble (I’m not making that up) in his goal to bleach the insides and outsides of autistic children everywhere are Bishop Kerri Rivera (a DAN! adherent, as well) and sidekick the Reverend Doctor Janet Henshaw-Hedlund, featured here in a video with Humble. The three have held a workshop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where the threesome provide direction to “treat” autistic children by having them ingest bleach to the point of vomiting and diarrhea, if not worse.

You can read about the claims they make about their solution at Science-Based Medicine, where Orac has taken apart a presentation that Bishop Rivera herself made at AutismOne 2012. Introduced by a woman wearing an “MMS Rocks!” t-shirt, Rivera gave her misleading, anti-scientific, bleach-shilling talk (video here; viewer beware) to what appeared to be a room that contained not a single dissenter, not one person who stood up to ask, “Really? You’re recommending that we use a bleach solution as an enema in autistic children? As a bath? As an oral ‘treatment’?”

You read that correctly. Bleach enemas to cure autism. The protocols the members of this trio recommend for the MMS treatment are just… traumatizing even to read. One calls for a “treatment” every two hours for 72 hours, “every possible weekend.” Humble writes of overcoming the “nausea barrier” to up the dosage. Evidently, a “therapy” that induces nausea and vomiting and fever and diarrhea is a “good” thing. And if you make up a “baby bottle” of it, that makes it seem even more innocuous--or insidious, depending on your perspective.

Any child who is subjected to this abusive and torturous treatment would find it more than insidious. Orac quotes a parent who writes about her non-speaking autistic teen that the boy can’t tell her how he feels as she doses him with the bleach solution. He vomits and has diarrhea “all day”; she writes that he generally has a “sensitive” gut. Another mother set up a blog to describe trying MMS on both her autistic son and herself, a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s heartbreaking but also enraging to read her posts as they reveal more than she seems to see: Her son develops a sudden extreme fear of the bathtub, and she can’t seem to understand why, even though six days earlier, she wrote that they were about to try an “MMS bath” (i.e., a bleach solution bath; PDF of Humble’s protocol for that here) on him. Then suddenly, the blog ends with, “I cannot continue this blog. Sorry.” 

Yet even as that parent presumably ended her experimentation on herself and her child, others crow about MMS and its “curative” effects for autism and claim “miracles.” The reach of the marketing of MMS has been extremely effective in a very short amount of time in disseminating their claims through the autism community. But nowhere have they been as effective as they were in scoring a presentation at AutismOne, where they had an in-person audience and an online audience able to watch their live-streamed presentation.   

AutismOne, you should immediately take steps to publicly renounce your association with these people, particularly Kerri Rivera, and the use of MMS as a therapy for autism. Not to do so is tacit endorsement of child abuse and experimentation on children that no society should tolerate. You have allowed a cult that exists solely to shill bleach solution to vulnerable people to hawk their wares and exploit you and your conference attendees for their own ends. Do the right thing, do it publicly, and do it now.

In the meantime, we are working to make the FDA aware of all US-based sellers of MMS and associated claims, asking them to issue cease-and-desists to these vendors. Sellers are particularly careful -- or they try to be -- to claim that they’re shilling MMS as a water purifier (a legitimate use of the solution). However, they’ve made the mistake of mentioning Jim Humble (e.g., “Jim Humble approved!” and “health enhancements” at Amazon.com) along with their otherwise careful wording. It’s the virtual equivalent of putting MMS solution on display next to Jim Humble’s books about MMS as a “cure-all,” so that the latter constitutes labeling of the former. Humble is aware of the FDA and its power and that the FDA is aware of Humble and MMS.

So, help us urge the FDA to do more here than the previous 2010 consumer warnings that they issued about MMS, before these snake-oil-peddling charlatans turned their greedy eyes toward the autism community. Why? Because now, these people have moved beyond targeting consenting adults. They’ve moved into the realm of child abuse and child endangerment, and that demands our involvement. Please sign the petition asking the FDA to issue cease-and-desists to people selling this product as “Jim Humble approved.” Please help make it extremely difficult for parents to acquire and use this product on their children.