Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's a human life going for these days?

Photo Creative Commons by Connectologist.

If there was ever any doubt in your mind that American corporations regard their customers as the enemy, you now have indisputable proof.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court (the conservative-agenda-promotion machine carefully assembled by presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush I and George W. Bush) rendered a decision which emphatically calls into question whether these United States are still a civilized nation. They ruled that consumers of medical devices – implantable defibrillators, heart pacemakers, insulin pumps and such – do not have the right to take the manufacturers to court if a product of theirs turns out to be defective as long as it has been approved by the Food and Drug administration. In other words, if a can of vichyssoise gives you food poisoning because the manufacturer slacked off on sanitary procedures, you can sue (at least as far as I know). But when the insulin pump that's keeping you alive craps out because its maker laid off half its quality-control staff, your next of kin are out of luck.

The threat of legal action was and is the only thing that will keep the highly-monied producers of these implantable devices from endangering life and limb by going slack on quality-control or even knowingly selling defective items just to get them out of the warehouse.

In short, the high court has taken the cop off the beat.

Now if grandpa dies because his pacemaker failed due to the manufacturer's negligence, the manufacturer can just say “Nyaah, nyaah. Caveat emptor!”

The corporations whose limitless campaign contributions got Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes elected got exactly what they paid for. These radical-right presidents, over many years, carefully selected justices for the nation's highest court, right-wing activists who, they hoped, would consistently rule in favor of corporations, televangelists, right-wing think-tanks and the finance industry. The court, which certain entities are still counting on to “protect the rights of the unborn” has now officially negated the rights of the already-living.

Industries knowingly selling products which threaten life, limb and property is nothing new. “The public be damned” was the reply Henry Ford gave to someone who suggested that it would be prudent to install safety glass in his automobiles rather than ordinary plate glass which shatters into deadly, razor-like fragments when it breaks as in a collision. His sentiments are the creed by which every corporate CEO has run their companies ever since. In the mid-1970's, when it turned out that the now-notorious Ford Pinto line of compact cars had a defect which would cause them to burst into flames when hit from behind, an investigation revealed that Ford Motor Company had no intention of correcting the defect or ordering a product recall. Their representatives lied to congressional committees regarding the safety of the vehicles.

That's “business ethics” for you.

Congress is currently taking up legislation which if passed would undo the effects of this execrable decision. And predictably, the multinationals which make and sell medical devices are funneling money to the appropriate members of congress. They declare, via slickly-produced advertisements and crocodile-teared testimony from hand-picked witnesses or deluded consumers before congressional committees that accountability threatens innovation, that there will be no more development of new medical devices if these oh-so-benevolent medical-device companies are subject to the same tort liabilities as a homeowner who doesn't keep his pet pit-bull caged or leashed. Bushwa. There's money to be made selling medical devices, big money as anyone who has paid for them out-of-pocket knows too well. Too much money for any company to not stay ahead of the curve and cash in on the action.

Call your senators and members of congress right now. (You can find who to contact in your area by clicking the hyperlinks). Let them know in no uncertain terms that your life and those of your friends and relatives is more important than an overfed executive's ego or his company's bottom line.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Things are really getting out of control

I just heard about the advertisement in the above video from a friend who saw it on TV tonight. It's an ad for what's known in the pharmaceutical industry as an atypical antipsychotic drug.

Psychiatric drugs can help - if and only if they're used properly.

Too many psychiatric professionals don't use them properly. It's much easier and cheaper to carelessly toss a prescription at patients than to sit down with them and get to the actual source of their troubles.

One reason for this indifferent approach to medicating peoples' minds is insurance industry pressure on doctors to do medicine on the cheap.

Another is pharmaceutical companies' aggressive marketing tactics.

Still another is laziness on the part of too many psychiatric professionals.

Marketing antidepressants like headache remedies was bad enough. Marketing powerful and potentially dangerous anti-psychotics on television is rather disturbing.

Now, I've heard from one professional that judiciously applying so-called "homeopathic" doses of Abilify can do wonders for difficult cases of depression. What I worry about is doctors who hear clients talk about something they've seen on TV, and then just indifferently scrawl them out a prescription for it.

If you do believe you're suffering from a genuine psychological or psychiatric disorder, choose a therapist who listens to you, and isn't trigger-happy with medication. They can be tough to find, but they are out there.

Just remember that successful treatment for depression often happens gradually, not overnight. It can be frustrating to think that nothing's happening, but subtle, cumulative changes can manifest themselves almost without your knowing it. Here again, a knowledgeable therapist can be worlds of help.

Remember also that human feelings are not diseases.

Recommended reading:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Names. Lives. Not numbers.

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” - Joseph Stalin

I viewed the AIDS quilt at Broome Community College today. It’s hard not to feel sad when you look over each panel, lovingly crafted by the relatives and friends of AIDS victims. Victims who didn’t live to see better treatments for HIV/AIDS. Victims who never lived to see a cure, which as of this writing still hasn't been found. The ignorant and mean ones among us regard the terrible pandemic which ended these lives years before their time as a sign from above that love and pleasure are abominations. The rest of us feel our heads spin at the thought of so many promising lives lost for no reason.

The AIDS Quilt was the brainchild of San Francisco AIDS activist, Cleve Jones. Like many others, Jones was upset at the way Reagan-era America painted this then-new pestilence as divine punishment and its victims as human trash or worse. Many AIDS victims of the 1980's didn't even receive proper funerals. He and his co-organizers wanted to drive home the point that AIDS casualties were friends, relatives, parents, co-workers, not statistics in a seemingly endless body-count but people. People who loved and were loved by friends, relatives and life-partners. People whose loved ones were certainly devastated by their slow, excruciating deaths. The quilt, which rapidly expanded beyond the point at which the entire thing could easily be viewed in one place, traveled to dozens of American cities.

I last saw the quilt at a local high school in the early 1990's. Like the panels shown here, most were simple celebrations of the lives of those lost. Others included a call to action for social justice. One which sticks in my mind from that exhibition almost two decades ago was one which contained an embroidered mandala which on closer inspection turned out to be composed of ejaculating penises arranged in a circle. It made a huge impression on me that here in the middle of the worst sexually-transmitted disease epidemic since the emergence of syphilis, in the middle of the worst anti-sex backlash since the Comstock era of the late 19th century, friends of this one particular victim were not shunning sexuality, nor holding up their loved one’s death as a warning to sexually-active people, but actually celebrating sexuality, affirming life, affirming pleasure. Life, this simple artistic statement said, is not an underground shelter which we cram ourselves into while we wait indefinitely for the storm to pass, it’s meant to be lived, enjoyed. In the era of “just say no”, of yuppiedom, with its overemphasis on overwork and in-your-face conspicuous consumption, this was a radical idea. It still is today.

(Loyalty oath department - I’m a more or less ordinary straight person, one who recognizes that the same kinds of people who persecute or marginalize gay men and women for being what they are can mess with us just as easily. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, remember the hoo-haw over emergency contraception, also known as “Plan B”?)