The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, November 21, 2002  

Special Interests or Irredeemable Sociopaths?

If you haven’t been reading P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law & Autism, WampumBlog, or A Skeptical Blog this week, you no doubt have had a more relaxing week than I -- and my week pales in comparison to what the parents of autistic children were put through as a direct result of the despicable, dishonorable, and deceitful actions of Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), his fellow Republicans -- including President Bush, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, and House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) -- and Eli Lilly & Co.

What I learned was shocking and sickening. The sordid tale of Lilly’s moral bankruptcy and the willingness of congressional Republicans and the Bush administration to advance the company’s depraved agenda left me on the verge of either a full-on psychotic break or a massive stroke, the anger dulling my ability to distinguish between the two. (In the end, I decided that if I had to choose, I would go with the stroke, if only because Lilly manufactures a drug called Zyprexa that, in addition to treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is also sometimes used to treat psychosis.) It is, in fact, this issue that sparked my earlier-than-anticipated return to writing for the site.

The weblogs to which I referred earlier relay the specifics of this matter, particularly the science and the history, far better than I could. I’ll just say, in hopes of spurring you to learn more, that Lilly formerly manufactured a mercury-based compound called Thimerosal that was used as a stabilizing agent in vaccines for infants and children. There is some evidence, an incrementally growing body of evidence, that Thimerosal from vaccinations may be linked to the development of autism, the prevalence of this disorder having increased markedly in the years following the introduction of the compound into the ever-growing number of vaccines given to infants and toddlers.

Unfortunately precious little research has been done on the possible link between Thimerosal and autism, and even less research was performed -- in fact, virtually none as I understand it -- before the pharmaceutical and medical industries started injecting a mercury-based compound into the arms or butts, or wherever these things go these days, of delicate and not yet fully formed six-month-old infants.

Although the verdict is not yet in, it appears at least possible that Lilly made and sold and distributed and encouraged the use of a dangerous and unstudied and untested compound. Science may be catching up with Lilly. The public relations are disastrous. The drumbeat of possible liability lawsuits can be heard off in the distance.

In a situation like this, what’s a company like Lilly to do? The same damned thing every other red blooded, Fortune-500, American corporation does: It faces the sometimes brutal consequences of free-market capitalism, taking up the challenge with steely determination and unrestrained vigor.

No, actually corporations in such straits most often run to Washington for protection, and that’s exactly what Lilly did.

Lilly, hardly an inexperienced slouch in this regard, correctly assumed its $1.6 million of congressional campaign contributions this cycle alone, 80 percent of which went to Republicans, would ensure a welcome audience. (That OMB Director Daniels is a former Lilly lobbyist didn’t hurt either.) In fact, Lilly, armed with its hard-won and pricey arrogance, went right to the top: asking and gaining the direct and eager assistance of Rep. Armey who, following marching orders, inserted an amendment shielding Lilly, before the necessary research has been performed, from liability associated with the use of Thimerosal in vaccines into a major health care reform bill. No, that’s not it. Into a landmark tort reform act. No, that’s not it either. Into a bill providing affordable prescription drug coverage for senior citizens. No. Into a proposed law to ensure that every child in this country gets the health care he needs for a fair start in life. No, not that either.

It was slipped into the bill creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

Not long ago President Bush made the slanderous and McCarthy-esque charge that Democrats were delaying enactment of legislation to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security -- legislation that in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he vigorously opposed -- because, he said, they cared more about “special interests” than the security of the American people. It was the Democrats, he claimed, who once again were being held captive to “special interests,” in this case that great bogeyman that just scares the bejeezus out of Republicans, and strangely, scares the hell out of millions of Americans who would benefit from joining one: labor unions.

One of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House of Representatives inserts a blatantly protectionist, narrowly written, special-interest measure into an entirely unrelated piece of legislation at the behest of the great Eli Lilly (2001 revenues: $11.54 billion. 2001 net income: $2.81 billion. 2001 net profit margin: 24.4 percent.) and the Democrats are called “captives of special interests”?

If we’re to accept this formulation, what does that make Republicans who so eagerly put Lilly’s interests ahead of those of defenseless American children?

Criminally negligent?

Pathologically disturbed?

Irredeemable sociopaths?

(I have to say the most enraging image that comes to mind at the moment is of Lilly’s lobbyists gathering at the Capital Grille to celebrate their “victory” over clinking glasses of champagne.)

After reading up on Lilly and Armey’s shenanigans, and being the curious type -- or, more accurately, the type that likes to make the scurrilous squirm -- I called Lilly’s public relations office to see what they had to say about the matter. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that both of the women with whom I spoke claimed to have no idea whatsoever what I was talking about.

Both women professed to never having heard of Thimerosal before the word came from my mouth. Both said Thimerosal was not mentioned in the briefing books through which they thumbed. And both said no information about Thimerosal was available in the database they accessed during my call.

Have you ever felt certain -- but could not prove -- another person was lying to you? That’s how I felt when I spoke with Lilly. Why do I have this nagging suspicion that when someone from Lilly’s p.r. department enters the word Thimerosal into her computer a warning symbol flashes on the screen, alerting the user, “Do not respond to any inquiries regarding Thimerosal!” I know, I can’t prove it, and it may not actually happen, but is it really that great a leap?

The first woman with whom I spoke chided me gently, saying words to the effect, “Well, if it’s not in the computer then we don’t make it anymore so I don’t see why there would be a problem.”

The second woman, introduced to me by the first as “a highly trained nurse,” was either equally disingenuous or equally ill informed, but she helpfully offered this assurance: “I’m really not being coy with you. It’s just that I’ve never heard of Thimerosal before.” (She did, however, pronounce the word flawlessly, and knew how to spell it, that tricky “a” in the final syllable notwithstanding.)

In return, I assured her that given Lilly’s potential legal liability and the active -- and very current -- interest of the company’s government relations department in the issue, Lilly’s general counsel would know full well what I was talking about. I insisted she check with her legal department and call me back to let me know what they had to say.

That was Tuesday. It’s now Thursday night, and as yet no word from the highly trained nurse.

Ma’am, if you’re reading this, and I doubt you are -- though I sure as hell hope you stopped by the web sites to which I directed you -- I’m still waiting. And I’m going to call again.

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