Irresponsible if nothing else: Professor Kraus and vaccine law

TechNews Writer
Pronouns
(He/Him)
Mon Nov 26, 2018

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of TechNews.

 

Professor Edward Kraus of the Illinois Tech Chicago-Kent College of Law is not without fault. He operates the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic as a clinical professor, teaching classes and hosting students as interns or clinicians at his practice. An October 31 post on the Illinois Tech Student Community (ITSC) page called attention and controversy to the perceived anti-vaccination law firm. The outrage was not baseless - as recently as May of 2017, the website of the law project hosted the claim that vaccines cause autism. Such a casual link is as scientifically untrue as it is stigmatizing to the disabled community. Investigating the situation, I interviewed Professor Kraus twice in the last two weeks before this publication to shed some light on both the law and the man behind the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic.

The law office of Ed Kraus on the sixth floor of the Chicago-Kent College of Law is a modern, one-room setup with common spaces and conference rooms surrounding it. The first time I arrived, Ed Kraus was joking loudly with friends about weekend plans and happily called me over for the interview. The receptionist was nice enough and made sure to offer me plenty of mints.

The concept of vaccine law is, at its core, neither fraudulent nor anti-intellectual. Any medical procedure is going to have that slimmest of fractions of operations that result in allergic reaction, inflammation, or infection - vaccines are no exception. A 1986 federal law established the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund (VICF) for such cases. The VICF is a no-fault government fund to be distributed to those with legitimate, demonstrated adverse reactions to vaccinations. None of this money ever comes from suing doctors or pharmaceutical companies. Payouts from this fund cover things such as medical bills, missed work, physical therapy, and pain-and-suffering payments. For somebody so afflicted to get their legal payout, it requires bringing forward a federal lawsuit and hiring a lawyer - this is where the necessity for law firms like the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic come in.

Professor Kraus does not run an anti-vaccination clinic. In our first interview, he made sure to express his full awareness of the utility and importance of vaccines in modern medicine. Rather than representing fringe anti-vaccination clients in court, a typical case might see Kraus representing a client with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nervous system disorder which can be brought on by a damaging autoimmune reaction to vaccinations. Such a case may involve partial and often-recoverable nerve damage, with a court payout in the area of $300,000. Rare cases see million-dollar payouts for severe infantile spasms or permanent nerve and vision damage.

When asked about the claim that vaccines cause autism, he responded with “that’s not accurate at all.” He called the claim absolutely non-viable and irrelevant to his current practice. However, this question is what initially drew Kraus to his niche area of expertise.

Kraus cut his teeth on the autism issue in the early-to-mid 2000’s, with the flurry of cases surrounding the claim that vaccinations directly cause autism. Like any disability lawyer representing a client, Kraus defended that poorly-aged viewpoint in court. This begs the question: are lawyers not responsible for the views they represent? Or can they stand for anything, depending on who the client of the day is, without responsibility?

The otherwise-talkative professor remained tight-lipped on what exactly his involvement was or what representation in these cases entailed.

His favorite courtroom film is “Philadelphia.”

Kraus graduated with his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1988. Since then, he has pursued a career and schooling in law with the goal of helping others. He met his wife at an anti-Apartheid rally, both as student activists. Kraus enrolled in law school at Georgetown in 1990, graduating in 1993, focusing heavily on public representation and defense with low-income families. “Poverty and health are absolutely intertwined,” he remarked during the second interview when asked about the transition from public representation to health & disability law.

After graduating from Georgetown, he pursued a career in disability law and was hired by Illinois Tech’s Chicago-Kent College of Law as a clinical professor in 1999. The law office started as a general, nondescript health & disability office, taking on significantly more vaccination cases in 2005 with the spike in autism-related claims. Only a little over five years ago, in 2012, was his practice officially christened the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic

Edward Kraus, born in Ohio, does not understand the hype around Ohio State Football - unsurprising from a Michigan alum.

Professor Kraus also demonstrated an appalling degree of ignorance in defending the connection between vaccinations and autism on his website as recently as some 18 months ago. Rather, he described the revised claim to me as vaccines can LEAD TO autism. Rare cases of seizures, and even rarer brain damage, can result in delays to both motor and social development. These symptoms can very possibly LEAD TO diagnoses on the autistic spectrum. Further, the lawyer argued, a concerned parent with an afflicted child is less likely to search “childhood encephalopathy from influenza immunization law” as compared to the easier “vaccine autism lawyer.” This way, the lawyer claims, he could better reach out to those people in need of genuine legal representation, regardless of initial misconceptions. He does not represent people without a strong case; an anti-vaccination parent with a baseless claim will not be represented.

If technically true, this shows a refusal to take responsibility for misinterpretation. Hosting this claim legitimized a particularly virulent piece of anti-vaccination propaganda, a cause actively contributing to human suffering in the form of preventable measles and pertussis outbreaks. This link has been proven most recently by studies out of Emory University, as well as dozens of other incidences and case-studies. The claim is also offensive and demeaning to the disabled community, failing to distance itself from the fraudulent 1998 paper by Dr. Wakefield which espoused that direct claim between vaccinations and autism. Wakefield has since been stripped of his license to practice medicine. That paper is a direct lie - a piece of hate speech masquerading as science - and a university professor needs to be more careful than to "flirt" with Wakefield-apologia or legitimizing his claims. Spreading a half-truth and shirking responsibility when that lie is taken as fact is socially and ethically irresponsible.

But, eventually, the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic did remove the claim from their website. When questioned on why, and if he regretted hosting the claim, the once-confident lawyer grew uncharacteristically awkward and cagey. He defended the past autism half-claim, backing up the science with the firm’s close involvement with neurologists and biologists and psychologists in its medical consultation.

Edward Kraus did not apologize. 

Edward Kraus also spent two years between his undergraduate degree and law school in Colorado with his wife-to-be, settling down and helping her through law school.

The law offices on the sixth floor seemed a little less happy to receive me the second time around for interview number two. The lawyer remained cordial and charismatic in person - entertaining at times - but, while setting up the interview over the phone, a steely seriousness lined his voice that wasn’t present the first time. I don’t think Ed Kraus was pleased to hear back. The receptionist still offered me plenty of mints, though.

At the very least, to the concerned students out there, undergraduate tuition money does not go towards paying for the salaries of Chicago-Kent clinical professors. The law school is fairly insular with its finances, as the institution pays its salaries from a pool of money collected from legal fees and case payouts. By virtue of the fact that individual law firms can be financially independent, the tuition of the engineer or the architect is not regularly lining the pockets of law school clinical professors.

Professor Kraus noted that he works “a lot more than 40 hours a week.” All of these hours are with the student interns and clinicians, who are fully integrated into every aspect of the law project. He threw around frequent law jargon in our interviews which, admittedly, took some correcting and explaining. We both commented on the awkward disconnect between the Chicago-Kent Law School and the Mies campus.

He confided in me that he isn’t too wild about the Tom Cruise courtroom film “A Few Good Men.”

He also refused to accept responsibility for misinterpretations of his claim that vaccines can LEAD TO autism, featured on his clinic website until 2017. Professionals at this level need to be in control of - or at least aware of - the rhetoric they use and the connections it has. More than just a given blog or business, lawyers and high-level public professionals set the arguments and attitudes for the rest of the societies they live in. These arguments also get tied to the institutions they represent, in this case our Illinois Institute of Technology.

My interviews didn’t reveal Professor Edward Kraus to be a malicious man, a conspiracy theorist set off by fluoride in the water and mercury in vaccines. In the case of Professor Kraus as a lawyer and teacher, I can’t pretend that the grounds exist to call for some immediate action or university discipline. However, in the case of Edward Kraus the individual, his inability to accept responsibility for his words and their connections shows a lack of professional maturity and reflects poorly on an individual I’m not proud to share a university with.

 

 

Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 11
Tags
Channel