Home
In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 29, 2005 / 24 Av, 5765

Whose Vioxx is gored?

By Michael Kinsley


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Litigators are circling like alligators around the quivering drug company Merck. Estimates of what Merck ultimately may have to pay people who used its pain pill, Vioxx, rise every day: $50 billion is the highest bid so far. Last week, in the first case to come to trial, a Texas jury awarded Carol Ernst $253 million over the death of her husband. She may get a mere tenth of that. But there are nearly 5,000 Vioxx lawsuits. Just type "Vioxx" into your favorite Internet search engine to see why that number may rise to 20,000.

Merck has set aside $675 million just to cover its legal expenses. But the lawyers collect from both sides. If Carol Ernst gets $25 million, about $8 million of that — the traditional one-third — will go to her lawyer, Mark Lanier. Lanier says that after he pays off the law firm that turned the case over to him, plus other expenses, he'll be "lucky to get 10%." Shucks.

You may be under the impression that Merck did something terribly wrong in putting Vioxx on the market. But the Vioxx cases don't generally claim that.

Instead, they are based on the last refuge of the tort lawyer: the "duty to warn." Any product carries some risk. If you slice up a beach ball, sauté it and eat it, the consequences could be dire. But even the world's greatest lawyer would hesitate to argue that this is the fault of the beach ball manufacturer. That doesn't mean the lawyer won't take your case. He or she will take it and argue that the manufacturer should have warned purchasers that beach balls are not edible, cooked or raw.

The duty to warn is one of the law's great celebrations of hindsight. When something actually has gone wrong, it is hard to argue (especially to a jury) that this development is too unlikely to worry about. And it is nearly impossible to argue that consumers shouldn't be given information to decide for themselves.

Speaking for myself, I set aside one day a month exclusively for reading all the warning labels on products I have bought, such as beach balls. Then I assess whether the risk I am undertaking exceeds the benefit I hope to gain. But I wonder how many of my fellow citizens are so scrupulous.

I wonder, in particular, how likely it is that Carol Ernst's husband would even have noticed such a warning on the side of the box or bottle or speed-mumbled during one of those eerily atmospheric TV commercials for prescription drugs.

Or, if he noticed it, would he have acted? It might have saved his life, but only in the way that deciding to take a later flight has saved your life when the earlier plane crashes. There is no actual connection. The studies Merck is accused of ignoring suggest a small increased risk of a heart attack among people using Vioxx for more than 18 months. Robert Ernst had used Vioxx for only eight months, and he didn't die of a heart attack. He died of a different heart ailment known as arrhythmia. Lanier persuaded the jury that the arrhythmia could have been caused by an earlier heart attack that left no trace.

The absurdities pile on. Everyone but a few extreme libertarians can agree that the government has a legitimate role to play in protecting us from dangerous prescription drugs. Only the government can make rules that are uniform and consistent over time, so that investors in drug research can rely on them.

Donate to JWR


But in our current system, the government plays two conflicting roles. The FDA approves or disapproves a new pharmaceutical, weighing the trade-off between risk and benefit. And then the court system comes along and sees that trade-off differently. The fact that Vioxx was approved by the FDA carries little authority in Tort World, where thousands of juries in hundreds of courts of the 50 states will draw the line in other places.

Vioxx was a nearly unnecessary product. It came on the market in 1999 as an expensive alternative painkiller for people whose stomachs couldn't handle cheap pills such as ibuprofen. Merck's real offense was selling Vioxx to millions of people who didn't need the stuff. It did so by abusing the power of advertising, the reality of insurance and our national penchant for shortcuts in the pursuit of happiness. But the entire pharmaceutical industry is guilty on those charges, which apply to safe drugs as well as dangerous ones.

Then there is justice. Foreigners look with amazement on a society that gives Carol Ernst $17 million or so in trade for her 59-year-old husband — more than he's worth to anyone else and yet almost insultingly inadequate to her — and gives tens of millions to a few lawyers like Lanier, and is about to institute a transparently phony plan to provide prescription drugs that do work to people who need them, but with no money to pay for them.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Michael Kinsley is Los Angeles Times Editorial and Opinion editor and former editor of Slate.com. Comment by clicking here.



Archives



© 2005 Los Angeles Times Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles