Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by James J. Murtagh Jr., M.D.
American Reporter Correspondent
Atlanta, Ga.
October 27, 2005
American Opinion

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ATLANTA -- "The Constant Gardener" proves once again that John le Carré is the master not just of spy novels, but also of the most basic human drives - and a keen observer of the central moral problems of our times.

Some fans despaired that the fall of the Berlin Wall would mean the end of the Cold War spy novel. Now it's clear that the clash of warring New World Order camps just intensifies the need for human intelligence, and for master spy craft. Le Carré once wrote on fighting communism. Now, he writes on the evils of unbridled capitalism, and on bad faith in medicine. "The Constant Gardener" begins in Nairobi with the murder of the wife of a British diplomat who blew the whistle on a pharmaceutical giant. The drug company is cynically using Africans as guinea pigs in developing an incredibly lucrative antibiotic against drug-resistant tuberculosis. The stakes are high, and British intelligence has been called in to protect the drug company.

James Bond, no longer needed to fight S.P.E.C.T.R.Ec, becomes a mercenary in the fight against medical whistleblowers. In an earlier book, a secret agent with a conscience, such as George Smiley, might have restored balance. But no more.

But does le Carré write fiction?

"Constant Gardener" is tame compared to non-fiction headlines. Real-life doctors daily battle bad faith that harms real patients Actual whistleblowers, including James Alderson, exposed the mammoth Health Corporation of America (HCA, formerly Columbia HCA) for ripping off $2 billion from the American public, and suffer the same "Spy vs. Spy" legal hardball depicted in the film.

Nor is the use of human guinea pigs by pharmaceutical giants limited to Africa:

  • Dr. Linda Peeno testified to Congress that Humana knowingly withdrew standard care from U.S. patients, killing thousands, to increase the bottom line.
  • NIH whistleblower Dr. Jonathan Fishbein reported that bad faith in research resulted in deaths.
  • Suppressed research could have stopped the Vioxx debacle.
  • One Dallas jury was so enraged by bad faith in medicine at a Texas HMO that it awarded $366 million dollars to Dr. Larry Poliner (uch of this information is posted at www.semmelweis.org).

    Not surprisingly, a Congressional forum I moderated this Spring concluded the nation can't afford poor-quality, unsafe medicine with jacked-up prices. Bad faith at for-profit HMOs and drug companies leads to billions being diverted in high-profile political scams. Good faith in medicine is now an important matter of national security.

    Reality is more sobering than a le Carré novel. HCA, controlled by the family of Republican Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist played a key role in the Texas Ranger purchase that put our current President George W. Bush on the map.

    Karl Rove, in turn, helped U.S. Sen. Frist to become majority leader. Could even le Carré have plotted a book about the scion of the world's largest HMO leading the Unoted States Senate, and then becoming a front-runner for President in 2008?

    Remember Godfather's Vito Corleone dying wish that Michael could have become Senator Corleone, or Judge Corleone? The real interdependence between HMOs, drug companies and U.S. politics is beyond anything contemplated in fiction. Could even George Smiley thwart such a plan?  "The Constant Gardener" is a magnificent film about real humans standing up to the terror of drug cartel thugs. It could just as well be about the real life terror inflicted by government agencies against whistleblowers standing up for the public good, and for human decency.

    In an age when we have given unprecedented power to Big Brother, and to agents of the Patriot Act, we must insist those who wield this power aid the weak and the innocent. In the fight to preserve human freedom, it is good to have John le Carré as the master of all spymasters chart the dangers of bad faith in medicine, research, and politics.

    James J. Murtagh Jr., M.D., is a doctor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine and spent 20 years as an ICU physician at a major Southeast hospital. He founded the medical ethics consulting group "Team Integrity" and recently chaired a Congressional forum reported in Time called "The Health Integrity Project." Write him at jmurtag@mindspring.com.


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