Ethan Lindenberger’s Mother Disagrees with His Senate Testimony

Ethan Lindenberger’s Mother Disagrees with His Senate Testimony March 6, 2019

Yesterday Ethan Lindenberger testified before a Senate Committee about vaccine misinformation. The teen became a national star after he defied his mother’s wishes and got fully vaccinated. While the appearance before the government should have been a proud moment for his mother, Jill Wheeler is less than thrilled that her son’s story is a media sensation.

During his testimony, Ethan was articulate, well versed, and straight forward about how misinformation that his mother found online played into her anti-vaccination position.

In Ethan’s opening statement, he shared that he grew up with a mother that believed vaccines caused autism, brain damage, and other health-related issues. Through online groups and social media, he said his mother reinforced her opinions on vaccines.

As he grew older, he credited critical thinking as the reason for changing his mind on vaccines. Instead of trusting his mother’s belief on immunizations, Ethan read scientific journals, The World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control websites to learn about vaccines.  As a result, he realized that vaccines did not cause autism or lead to health issues.

Armed with data, statistics, and information from trusted sources, he tried to show his mother, Jill, that her beliefs were not correct. Rather than embracing the information presented by her son, Jill argued with him and discounted his sources.

Ethan was clear in his testimony that his mother’s desire not to vaccinate her children came from a place of love. However, he said that misinformation online completely brainwashed her about the dangers of vaccines. Because of the mass amounts of misleading content online, he impressed upon the Senate that changes need to be made.

Despite Ethan’s mother’s wishes, he became fully vaccinated late last year. He made the appointment without his mother’s knowledge. When his mother found out about his appointment, she was not happy.

While Ethan’s story has been widely publicized, his mother Jill’s story has been less visible. Prior to his testimony before the Senate, Fox8 in Ohio sat down to speak with her.

Jill told the reporter that she does not agree with her son’s choice to be vaccinated. She seemed irritated that the Senate would interview a child that had no “education” about vaccines.

“Ethan has had no education at all in this, none! Again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he’s sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he’s done on the Internet?”

She did say that she was proud of her son, but did not agree with his decision. In another interview, Jill sat down with Robert Scott Bell who is an internet conspiracy theorist that pushes an anti-vaccine agenda. The video is uploaded on YouTube and gives more insight to her line of thinking.

During the interview, Jill was candid about her choice to not vaccinate her son. She explained that she began her research about vaccines after having her second child. For more than a decade, Jill says she has researched, read books, and advocated against vaccines.

When Ethan began reading about vaccines, she told him that the CDC does not provide all the facts. She rattled on about the conspiracy belief that the government withholds information from citizens in order to push an agenda.

Additionally, she feels the media is using her son’s story to influence other children to go against their parents’ wishes. She believes that Ethan is wrong about vaccines and is fearful he may “never turn back” to her anti-vax views.

Jill has clearly fallen down the rabbit hole of misinformation. In the interview, she was unable to provide any scientific data that supported her position. Instead, she used words like “I Feel” or “I believe” when she spoke about vaccines.

There is no doubt that she loves her children, but she has absolutely taken the position that a conspiracy exists about vaccines. Once someone falls into the conspiracy mindset it can be difficult to change their position.

Amazingly, Jill raised a child that managed to sift through the propaganda that engulfed his home. Ethan credits his time in the high school debate club in helping him learn to research both sides of an argument.

Ethan’s testimony before the Senate was pretty impressive considering the fact that he’s a senior in high school. He sat on a panel with doctors and experts associated with vaccines, and he held his own.

Misinformation online continues to play a massive role in spreading fear about vaccines. For years social media platforms have remained relatively unregulated.  That freedom has created a place where conspiracy theories become mainstream.

What remains unknown is if the committee will act on the information they obtained from the hearing.

Will the government step up and regulate Facebook and other platforms?

How do we stop charlatans from using social media from profiting off the misinformation they spread?

Will more children start realizing their parents are wrong about vaccines?

If Ethan can change his mind, there is hope for all children to make informed decisions about vaccines. Sadly, his mother’s opinion is set in stone.

*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David Rice

    “She explained that she began in research after having her second child.
    For more than a decade, Jill says she has researched….”

    Okay, I give up: WHERE IS HER RESEARCH PUBLISHED? What science journals?

  • kilda

    “Ethan has had no education at all in this, none! Again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he’s sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he’s done on the Internet?”

    well, we *certainly* wouldn’t want people forming their opinions about vaccines based on half-assed research they’ve done on the internet.

  • What gets me about anti-vaxxers is that most of these folks WERE VACCINATED as children! They aren’t the ones who will directly suffer (unless their unvaccinated kid gets sick and/or dies). They are choosing to put their child at risk to suffer and potentially die of a completely unnecessary disease. Not to mention contributing to the breakdown in herd immunity.

  • If an anti-vaxxer raises a kid rational enough to get out of that trap, is that a parenting success or a parenting failure?

  • It’s a good question, but one that often gets turned around by the scientifically illiterate. They’ll say that since her son isn’t a published expert, his opinion is no better. We cannot forget that the burden of evidence lies on those who challenge scientific consensus (especially massive consensus). Non-experts who accept expert consensus are acting rationally and have no burden to defend their views… science has already done that. Non-experts who challenge expert consensus most certainly have to support their challenges with evidence that meets the same evidentiary standards that good science requires.

  • karmacat

    She seems more worried that Ethan will always disagree with her rather than worried about the supposed “dangers” of vaccines. I did read an article that it is hard for people to give on conspiracy theories because their social life becomes entwined with the group believing in a certain conspiracy theory. It is also hard to admit that you are wrong after spending 10 years thinking a certain way.

  • MoonlightUnkindledOne

    “Ethan has had no education at all in this, none! Again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he’s sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he’s done on the Internet?”

    Wow. So much projection from Ethan’s mother.

    “She explained that she began her research about vaccines after having her second child. For more than a decade, Jill says she has researched, read books, and advocated against vaccines.”

    “Researched.” I call bullshit on all that. More specifically, I call bullshit om the validity of her research. Nothing she “researched” is factually correct. It is dumb, dangerous trash.

  • Raging Bee

    Another problem with conspiracy theories is that once you accept the idea of a conspiracy to systematically hide “The Truth,” you lock yourself into a closed “system” of thought where the only new information you accept is in favor of a conspiracy. Lack of information proves there’s a coverup, and contrary information only proves how pervasive the conspiracy really is. And of course everyone who has any kind of first-hand knowledge or experience with the subject in question, is, by definition, part of the conspiracy.

  • Ally

    Yes! Plus, going with the scientific consensus doesn’t require cherrypicking or relying upon confirmation bias. You can still read and analyze anti-vax stuff and then go compare it to the scientific literature. What you’ll find is that science has already thoroughly investigated most of their claims and debunked them. You’ll also find that many of the “dangers” that anti-vaxxers fear have been either debunked or fixed due to scientific research and progress.

  • WallofSleep

    Seems a valid concern. If I were in her son’s shoes, I would find it next to impossible to take her seriously or believe a word she says after this sort of thing.

  • Anat

    While by now she may have spent over 10 years reading up this stuff, she already made the decision to not vaccinated her older children after a much shorter time, so I don’t see how she expects anyone to take the length of her reading seriously.

  • Mefistofele

    “A STUDY of 650,000 children born in Denmark between 1999 and 2010 has confirmed yet again that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)vaccine doesn’t increase the risk of getting autism.”
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132203-100-mmr-vaccine-does-not-cause-autism-study-once-again-confirms/

  • frostysnowman

    I certainly hope that Ethan’s story will convince other children to go against their parent’s wishes in this regard.

  • Alisha Rose Glenn

    My mom was also anti-vax when I was born. I’m not sure if she still is. I went and got myself vaccinated as an adult.

  • MuttsRule

    It’s a triumph of public education.

  • MuttsRule

    She’s actually calmed down a bit. Initially, she was quoted as calling his actions “insulting”, a “slap in the face,” and:

    “it was like him spitting on me, saying ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You
    did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it’.”

    The mother, Jill Wheeler, got all her anti-vax “education” from Facebook, according to Ethan’s testimony.

  • Martin Penwald

    If only it was that simple.

  • Fester Sixonesixonethree

    This woman frightens me. She talks of anti-vaxing like the adults of my youth talked about Jesus! YIKES!

  • ShamrockGecko

    Exactly

  • Wonder

    Conspiracist communities seem to operate a lot like cults, which are inherently authoritarian. I’m sure it’s upsetting for her that her son is departing from “the truth” as she sees it.

  • Wonder

    I mean, it’s like she *almost* gets it. I mean her son was literally saying “you made a bad decision and I’m going to fix it”
    It happens, Jill. Everyone makes bad decisions sometimes.

  • Wonder

    Both maybe?
    I mean everyone’s irrational about something, so if she’s an otherwise good parent who’s just stubborn and wrongheaded on this one thing, kid is probably looking at that and going “the way mom is about this is the opposite of everything else she’s taught me”

  • Wonder

    I mean, in the last 10 years she’s probably only listened to sources that confirmed a decision she’s so heavily invested in that her son’s life depended on the outcome.

    Because people are like that when they commit to something that completely

  • Raging Bee

    Hey, if you can’t trust the NSA’s favorite social-media platform, who can you trust?!

  • Google University.

  • Andrej Đeneš

    “…from a place of love”. No, fuck that, I don’t care where it comes from. Most conspiracy nuts aren’t hurting anybody, but Plague enthusiasts (yup, I stole that) have actual blood on their hands.

  • filmjerry

    Alas, one result of this may well be the ant-vaxxers deciding (if they already haven’t) to home-school their children. Nothing could be worse for them than having their children learn critical thinking, research skills, and rational decision making.

  • Jim Jones

    Why doesn’t she point to all the damage done to her eldest son who was vaccinated?

    Oh, wait.

  • Jim Jones

    And be able to get jobs and contribute to the economy.

    Oh, wait.

  • Jim Jones

    Actually it seems to reduce autism slightly.

  • Mythblaster

    I’m hoping Ethan’s six siblings will follow his lead and get themselves vaccinated as soon as they are able. They might ought to consider legal emancipation from their mother if she continues to keep them at unnecessary risk.

  • Phil

    So governments regulate the media. What is then to stop them only allowing content non-critical of the governement etc. As in China. It is a slippery slope that ends up confirming the conspiracy theorists were right all along! What is the answer? Maybe it starts and ends in education, being taught critical thinking. Then the mis-information wouldn’t survive and no need for regulation.

  • LMW1

    This woman needs to have her children taken from her. Hopefully it will happen before the return of polio.

  • smokert5555

    This is how atheism really got the ball rolling. It all comes back to the internet tp the to ability to gather information at a moment’s notice and verify it.

  • DanD

    Oh, I agree her son’s opinion doesn’t carry any more scientific weight. Of course it doesn’t carry any less either. Nor does it carry any less than Jenny McCarthy’s, or whatever unscientific nutjob the anti-vaxxers have been listening to.

    And once you balance all of those out, you end up with only the experts, who’s opinions do have weight, and are universally in favor of vaccination.

  • The son’s opinion may not carry more scientific weight, but it carries more logical weight simply by virtue of the fact that it’s aligned with expert opinion.

  • Raging Bee

    Okay, are you libertarians going to support greater public spending and state support of education at all levels?

  • Phil

    Who are you calling a libertarian? I am a human, simple as that. If it takes greater public spending, so what? Education is the the most important possession a human can have.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    The mother’s mistake, as with Libby Anne of ‘Love, Joy, Feminism’s parents, was to let the kid get involved in debate.

    THAT will turn on critical thinking and skepticism like nothing else.

  • I was a serious forensic debater in high school. Learned a lot about structured argumentation.

  • greggarious13

    So, has anyone asked how Ethan fared throughout his childhood without any vaccines? Is he mangled from the measles? Permanently damaged from chicken pox? Does he suffer ongoing respiratory problems from unresolved lingering pertussis (whooping cough)? How’s his overall health, before and after his supposed catch-up vaccinations? What makes us think he really got them all? Anyone reviewed his vaccination records? Talk about conspiracy theories…
    Why didn’t Ethan’s mother mention that the CDCP holds patents on vaccine ingredients, and gets paid everytime vaccines are sold? Did she mention that Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine, is now in court for fraud, falsifying data to show the Mumps component is 95% effective to achieve exclusive market share, when it fact it tested under 40%? Did she mention that Dr. William Thompson was forced to come forth as a whistleblower and admit that he and colleagues were ordered to shred documents and falsify data to hide the fact that their Atlanta study showed a significant correlation between MMR vaccine and autism? 2.7 times higher in black boys 3 years and under, and other correlations in other populations. Did she point out that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program run by the US Government has awarded $ compensation to families of children with autism judged caused by vaccination? She probably did, but this hit piece did not report it.