Has the US Supreme Court Just Induced A Pharmaceutical Game of Russian Roulette?

In December 2004, Karen Bartlett (pictured) was prescribed a frequently used anti-inflammatory drug named, Sulindac for her injured shoulder. Three weeks after consuming the Mutual Pharmaceutical Company’s product, a pitiless disease called, ‘Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis’ sporadically erupted. ‘TEN’ forcefully provokes the sufferer’s top layer of skin to detach itself from the flesh, before the rampant reaction eventually begins to burn through both the thick parts of the flesh and the upper layers of skin. Consequently, by early 2005, around 60% of Bartlett’s skin had become severed from the rest of her body, her oesophagus and lungs were severely scalded, and she had lost 90% of her vision. Yet the packaging did not present any form of warning. The Mutual Pharmaceutical Company failed to reveal that the so-called, ‘mild pain pill’ could activate a side-effect that is capable of dragging Bartlett, or any other deceived consumer, to the brink of death.

Karen Bartlett

Karen Bartlett

In response to this deplorable atrocity, Bartlett filed a law suit against the Mutual Pharmaceutical Company for breach of warranty; fraud; negligence; design defect; failure to warn; and manufactory defect. Despite her persistent efforts, all of the aforesaid cases were dismissed by the New Hampshire state court; well, with the exception of one case – the design defect claim.

In 2010, five years after the life-changing tragedy occurred, the almost vanquished, valiant victim received $21 million in damages. However, brace yourselves to be profoundly unsurprised: During the beginning of July 2013 and therefore, at a time when our awareness and thoughts were predominantly preoccupied by the developments of the Trayvon Martin homicide trial, the royal endorsement of gay marriage in the United Kingdom, and Edward Snowdon’s avant-garde insubordination, the US Supreme Court left Bartlett thoroughly “numb” as it implemented an impenetrable shield around approximately 80% of all medical drugs, by exempting the pseudo-populist pharmaceutical creators from legal liability for design defect, fraud, mislabelling, all side effects, and even accidental death.

This revolting reversal of legislation has not only overturned Karen Bartlett’s conscientious compensation, it has also ploughed through the pillars of justice. This is because, the majority of American pharmaceutical companies now have the unconditional freedom to withhold vital information concerning potential side-effects. To expand further, if an American patient dies from taking a fatal pill after they were initially led to believe that the tablet was innocuously remedial, it is likely that the callous confines of the new national law will prevent the victim’s loved ones from being able to take the perpetrators to court.

Yet, as the Supreme Court decided to prolong the circulation of adorned blood money within an industry that is currently turning over ‘$300-$400 billion a year’, and as the mallet pounded against morality, the court room was not infiltrated by a mournful moment of silence, but instead, a nonchalant encore. According to Mark Wachtler of Whiteout Press, “immediately upon the Supreme Court’s ruling, both drug manufacturers and Wall Street investors were celebrating.”

It is possible, if not probable, that this irrational emancipation will have the same pernicious impact on many defenceless patients who are based across the world, including the United Kingdom. This is due to the fact that a collection of colossal American-based pharmaceutical companies supply the U.K.’s National Health Servie (NHS) with a multitude of medicinal drugs. As a result of this, a British patient will be unable to take legal action against the aforementioned manufacturers unless the planned case remains extrinsic to: Fraud, design defect, mislabelling, all side effects, accidental death et al. Therefore, they would almost certainly be obligated to push their case through the despotic gates of the US Supreme Court, rather than through the British law system, because the defending company operates inside the United States, and thus, abides by US law (not British).

In essence, it seems as if our vitality has been tied to a temerarious train that is destined to crash, and regardless of how desperate we may be to remain oblivious and passive to this, one cannot be neutral on a moving train. The option to disregard the hazards that are embedded inside so many pills has expired. The risk to haphazardly embrace the next symptom neutraliser without sparing a second thought is too great. Participating in this pharmaceutical game of Russian Roulette could cost us our lives. And it is this reason alone that intensifies the need for us to be our own filter; the need for us to investigate the potential side-effects of the next alleged ‘wonder drug’ ourselves, and the need for us to inquisitively ameliorate our understanding of the medicine we are taking, so we can support the selection of doctors who sincerely seek the best for us (not those who simply exert autocratic advise after reading medical conjectures from their computer screens). Nevertheless, if you remain dubious, allow Steven Soderbergh’s raw yet relevant movie Side Effects (2013), starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum and Jude Law, to urgently revitalise your reasoning.