Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thinking the Unthinkable

Pat Robertson blamed fellow Americans for the big attack. It was their fault, he said: the civil libertarians, the gays, the feminists brought this mass murder upon themselves. Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's pastor, in essence said the same thing. He added a few touches which have fed our natural lust for misdirection the past few days; "Our chickens have come home to roost" and "God damn America." It takes no genius whatsoever and about two or three seconds to conclude that these men are not really far apart on their literally black and white conclusions about the reasons for 9/11. Each man arrived at the same conclusion from a decidedly different perspective that some inherent fault in the way our country was doing business was the trigger that resulted in the WTC disaster. Might there just be a kernel of truth in these seemingly wild accusations? Ever since that fateful day, I have been thinking the unthinkable myself. While I have confided my thoughts to a few select friends I have kept largely silent on the notion that introspection about the way we do things here in the U.S. may be in order. .

I now break that silence to talk about Eli Lilly in this context. In 1984, Lilly was indicted and prosecuted for its outrageous conduct in producing and selling a new arthritis product, Oraflex, that was marketed in the United States for a brief eleven weeks while nearly four thousand (not a misprint, 4000) elderly Americans died. The Oraflex victims died slow and painful deaths over weeks because of combined liver and kidney failure. Drug companies in America are regulated by the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, passed in 1938 after more than 200 children died when one of Lilly's brethren put windshield washer solvent into a sulfa preparation so that kids could drink the preparation. The requirements of the Act include reporting known adverse events promptly to the FDA and issuing labeling that is not "false or misleading in any particular." Labeling includes all forms of advertising. BEFORE Oraflex was FDA-approved for mass marketing in the U.S. more than four hundred citizens of the British Isles taking Oraflex had already died. a fact which was known to Lilly. Lilly's own researcher in the United Kingdom had forewarned Lilly that the reason for these deaths in the elderly was that persons over 65 years of age took about 2 1/2 times longer to metabolize the drug than the 30 year old prison inmates on which the drug was tested in pre-marketing studies in the U. S. Lilly deliberately withheld all this information from the FDA and promoted the drug for the treatment of arthritis (guess which age range of users has the greatest incidence of arthritis) as a wonder drug, to be taken once a day. Once the drug was released in the U.S., old people began to drop like flies. Lilly's plan (although it claimed that it didn't realize it was supposed to report the UK deaths) was to reveal the British Isle deaths on a piece meal basis, a few at a time. The drug was on the market for only eleven weeks because of the obvious toxicity causing the deaths of American elderly. More than four thousand deaths occurred from the drug, about a third more than the WTC disaster. In subsequent civil litigation, I took the deposition of Ian Snedden, the medical director of Lilly at the time. Lilly had relieved him of his duties at the parent company and made him the CEO of a subsidiary, Dista Corp., in London to put him beyond the reach of subpoenas. When a federal court finally ordered him to appear for a deposition, he pleaded the fifth amendment on 466 out of 468 questions.

What happened next requires a comparison. When 18 crazy guys from Saudi Arabia took over four airplanes which resulted in 2900 deaths, the federal government started two wars; one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, both of which are still raging today. When Lilly marketed a drug that killed more than 4000 people, the same federal government allowed it to plead guilty to 25 misdemeanor counts and pay a $25,000 fine; one thousand dollars for each of the 25 laws it broke in killing these people! The federal judge in Indianapolis, Lilly's home town, (guess who he probably plays golf with on the weekends) reduced the 25 charges from felonies to misdemeanors and praised Lilly at the sentencing while not commenting on the deaths. I was present at the sentencing. I thought I was at a banquet honoring Lilly for its civic commitment and leadership. I wanted to puke. The federal prosecutor resigned in disgust and protest. Maybe, just maybe, it is this self-righteous sense of 'we are perfect. We can do no wrong' that needs to be critically examined at all levels of our society. Maybe, just maybe, we ought to think about what these men of God say as they express the rage and frustration of our citizenry at double standards.

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