Selling Sickness: A Call to Action


As our regular readers now know, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research held its 20th biennial meeting last week in New York. Over the next few weeks, you can expect to see several posts about new research and other exciting events of that conference (yes, the Red Moon Howl was filmed!). I’m going to launch that parade of awesome with the organization’s unanimous decision to endorse the Call to Action developed at the February, 2013, Selling Sickness conference held in Washington, D.C.

The Selling Sickness conference was designed to be part of a global progressive and activist health movement, supported by many allied organizations, including Consumer Union, Association for Women in Psychology, New View Campaign, PLOS, Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, and many others. The conference theme was “People Before Profits”, with topics ranging from to disease-mongering, misleading marketing, ethics in professional education, journalistic standards, over-treatment, new models for drug development and testing, whistleblowers, and how all of these issues affect public health and pocketbook. SMCR was represented by a panel of researchers who presented a symposium titled, “The Medicalization of the Menstrual Cycle”. Presenters Peggy Stubbs, Ingrid Johnston-Robledo, Joan Chrisler, Paula Derry, Holly Grigg-Spall, Elizabeth Kissling, and Chris Bobel discussed how the menstrual cycle is medicalized throughout the life-cycle, and some activist responses.

Many conference contributors met during and after the conference to shape the following Call to Action, and at our organization meeting on Friday, June 7, SMCR membership voted to endorse it as an organization.

Call to Action on Selling Sickness

Washington, DC

We come together as researchers, health care professionals, activists, advocates, patients, caregivers and citizens deeply troubled about the growing corruption of medical science and health care.

We demand an end to industry-promoted disease-mongering that manipulates health concerns and causes harm through practices that medicalise normal life and deceive professionals and the public.

Commercial imperatives are being allowed to corrupt clinical, research and marketing practices which now include hiding data, inflating diagnostic categories, unnecessary screening and treatment, deceptive marketing, faulty and biased research and publishing, inadequate oversight, a neglect of social factors and injustices, and uncritical, unbalanced reporting.

We are alarmed at how undergraduate and post-graduate professional education are based on untrustworthy “science” designed to expand markets rather than impart valid knowledge or improve individual or public health.

Hazardous practices and distorted science harm patients, waste public resources, create illness and health anxiety, hoodwink the public, corrupt knowledge, corrode professionalism, and expose everyone to unnecessary, costly and dangerous tests and treatments.

Recognizing that we all will enact this commitment differently, we pledge our support to a new movement of alliances and actions to ensure that:

  • a clear firewall is created between industry/commercial influence, on the one hand, and, on the other, the regulators of drugs and devices as well as the developers and authors of clinical practice guidelines;
  • direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and medical devices is much more tightly regulated or, if possible, is prohibited and effective surveillance programs created;
  • drugs, diagnostic tests, and devices are tested, approved, reported and marketed solely with the goal of ensuring patient safety, scientific integrity and individual and public health;
  • drugs and devices are tested against appropriate controls, usually the current best treatment, in appropriate populations;
  • unsafe or ineffective marketed products are quickly identified, their harms and inadequacies are widely publicized, and they are removed from use;
  • all clinical trials are registered and access to all raw clinical trial data is made available for independent analyses at least at the time of approval, but preferably before approval;
  • the patent system for medicines is reformed so commercial benefit does not overshadow real clinical benefits for patients;
  • patients and health care consumers are fully informed about and involved in individual health decisions, as well as in research priorities, research design, and regulatory policy;
  • human subjects participating in clinical trials are adequately protected by ethical review boards that are functioning properly, accurate and complete informed consent, and the provision of full compensation for any harms;
  • journalists, whose job it must be to independently vet claims made by third parties, realize the harm that is done when news stories disseminate disease-mongering sales and promotion messages in an unchallenged, unverified manner;
  • health care regulations, health professional training, and clinical practice guidelines acknowledge and make allowance for marginalized and vulnerable groups who may be more susceptible to harms and exploitation;
  • the usually less profitable non-pharmaceutical treatments and therapies, as well as disease prevention and community-centered interventions, are raised in research and publishing priority to levels comparable to drug and device therapies.

These reforms will substantially improve public health and safety in a complex world of escalating technologies and communications media, and will save money, thereby lessening pressure on individual and public budgets and private health insurance programs.

We believe the urgent threat to human health from disease-mongering requires the united and creative action of citizens and professionals.

We pledge ourselves to act, individually and collectively, to distribute and to implement the measures outlined in this statement and encourage continuing outreach to interested others.

Please sign the statement to indicate your endorsement.

One thought on “Selling Sickness: A Call to Action

  1. I hope SMCR members will sign the Selling Sickness Call to Action in substantial numbers. We have over 600 endorsers already as well about 2 dozen nonprofit organization endorsers. Selling Sickness represents a PARTNERSHIP MODEL FOR A NEW SOCIAL HEALTH MOVEMENT and we are committed to building bridges between consumers and health professionals to use their skills, networks, and vision for healthcare reform. I attended SMCR earlier this month for the first time and was delighted and excited by the talent and enthusiasm I saw. SMCR can have influence beyond its numbers and Selling Sickness can help!

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