After California's governor signed a bill on Tuesday requiring all children attending school to be vaccinated, regardless of personal or religious beliefs, actor and comedian Jim Carrey took to Twitter to express his outrage at the decision. But the way he did so prompted fierce backlash from the family of a teenage boy whose picture he used without permission.
Carrey, who has over 14 million Twitter followers, is part of a small but vocal faction of people who believe vaccines contain "neurotoxins" that cause autism, a claim that has been widely discredited by scientific research.
A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST! pic.twitter.com/cCa6bKBxei
-- Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) July 1, 2015
Among his tweets, which include calling the state's governor, Jerry Brown, a "fascist," Carrey tweeted a photo of a child with autism insinuating that vaccines were the cause of his illness. "A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions," he wrote on the social media site. "Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!"
But Carrey did not get permission to use the image of now 14-year-old Alex Echols - and his family is not happy about it. "I'm very disgusted and sickened," Alex's aunt, Elizabeth Welch, wrote on Instagram. "Alex had these conditions before he was ever vaccinated."
The family says Alex was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis -- a genetic syndrome -- when he was six weeks old and has a history of autism, seizures, and self-injurious behaviors. They tell his story on alexneedshelp.com, a website his family set up to advocate for the use of medical marijuana, the only treatment, they say, that helps manage his condition.
In her Instagram post, Alex's aunt demanded the photo be removed from Carrey's tweet. "I'm very disgusted and sickened that a celebrity would use a photo like this that was used in the first place to spread awareness of Tuberous Sclerosis to mock him and and my sister for vaccinations. Even if that was not his intended outcome, it is what happened," she wrote.
Alex's mother, Karen Echols, tweeted at Carey to remove the photo and filed a copyright complaint to Twitter.
@JimCarrey Please remove this photo of my son. You do not have permission to use his image.
-- Karen Echols (@karen_echols) July 2, 2015
The photo was taken down by Thursday morning but not until after being retweeted hundreds of times.
Thursday night, Carrey tweeted an apology: "I'd like to apologize to the Echols family and others for posting a pic of their kids w/o permission.I didn't mean to cause them distress," he wrote.