Friday, August 19, 2005


Justice and Vulnerability

The jury came back in the first Vioxx lawsuit, awarding a widow $253 million for the "wrongful death" of her husband. I am sorry for her loss. Some would look upon a corporation such as Merck as having earned an obscene amount of money from the drugs they produce, and such a punitive finding will prevent these greedy pharmaceutical companies from making their lucre at the expense of their customer's health, and perhaps lives.

I say, that's a load of garbage.

First, with thousands of suits pending, does it make any sense to award an obscene amount of money to a single party, grossly in excess and any sensible calculation of damages? At this rate, the first dozen or so parties will bankrupt the company, the rest will get squat.

Secondly, can there even be the remotest possibility of proving that Vioxx actually caused this man's death? (The answer for the scientifically challenged, is a resounding no.) The very likely possibility is that this man's lifestyle choices, health, eating habits, and family history predestined him for a heart attack.

Any "science" involved relied on a correlation between those who take Vioxx and those who have heart attacks, and the correlation was suggested, but probably weak. Could a study account for every possible variable in both the Vioxx and non-Vioxx populations? Highly unlikely, as there is probably more we don't know about heart disease than what we do.

So one grieving widow hits the lottery, it won;t replace her husband, who might very well have died even if he had never taken Vioxx. And is there a refund for any amount of relief he might have found for whatever arthritus or chronic pain that led to his taking the drug in the first place? Lady justice stands mute.

Why does this incence me?

Because I am one of the millions who derived real benefit from this drug, only to have it yanked from the market pre-emptively in anticipation of lawsuits such as these. Does it mean the drug isn't safe? Who knows, certainly not science.

I would have signed a waiver to continue to receive this drug, which was the first and only medication (after years and many frustrating alternatives) that relieved my pain and the swelling that made it difficult for me to function. But I was deprived of that choice.

Bad science makes worse law. Life happens. There are no guarantees. We as a people need to stop looking for blame, and a big payout when bad things happen. Not every instance of cancer or heart attack or ailment or condition is necessarily caused by anything. The most notorious example of environmental pollution causing cancer, Love Canal, was later re-evaluated to find that cancer rates were no higher than in any average population. (See an excellent summary in Reason.) But you can be certain, if someone in the neighborhood got cancer, it was automatically Hooker Chemical's fault.

Praise God, my arthritic condition has somewhat abated, and I can get by with Ibuprofen (after trying Bextra and watching that too get yanked off the market).

But I deeply resent having possible medical advances held hostage to bad science and grasping attorneys. (Don't even bother to suggest any altruistic motives; they wouldn;t have needed to resort to the advertising storm encouraging every possible lawsuit to step forward. That, and you better believe they'll be settlements based on the possibility of someone having a heart attack.

Certainly, sometimes the willful disregard of human life and health, and avarice, will cause a company or individuals to prey upon vulnerable populations.

But now we are prey to trial lawyers, does that make us any less vulnerable?

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