The Autism Debate: Who's Afraid of Jenny McCarthy?

Parents of autistic children call Jenny McCarthy an inspiration, but doctors say she's a menace to public health. How a former Playmate and television loudmouth became one of the most feared mothers in America

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Jeff Minton for TIME

Jenny McCarthy

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McCarthy vows to continue her fight, spreading her truth, for "the rest of my life ... I would love to be on Stage 19, yukking it up as a Hollywood actress, but how could I not step up here and be the voice? And I'll continue to be the voice." It is impossible to overlook the larger and direct dangers inherent in her position on vaccines. Yet it is equally difficult to ignore the emotional core of what she is saying: Listen to parents. If doctors won't, then McCarthy will. While I was reporting this story, I talked to my parents about what I was working on. They have been living with autism for the past 40 years. My father listened and then told me to ask McCarthy about a specific alternative therapy he had heard about and was interested in trying on my 42-year-old brother Noah.

I thought about this as I was driving out to the San Fernando Valley to see McCarthy and realized she was right: parents will never stop hoping.

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