*There are spoilers in the post * Late Saturday night, my best friend Rachel and I decided to stay in and watch a movie. With the Oscar buzz still in the air, we decided to watch Dallas Buyers Club. Both of us were very eager to see Mathew Mcconaughey’s award winning performance.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof a Texas electrician and rodeo enthusiast. It looks at his life-long battle with HIV/AIDS. At the beginning of the film Woodroof was given the grim prognosis of only thirty days to live. His life was filled with sadness, anguish, and denial when trying to come to terms with the short amount of time he had left. He was first given the drug Zidovudine also known as AZT. At the time, this was only the antiretroviral drug approved by the FDA. Woodroof then goes to a doctor in Mexico where he gets ddC (another antiretroviral medicine) and peptide p (a protein), both of which were not FDA approved. While trying to prolong his life and deal with his symptoms, he tries to do the same for others. He then opens the Dallas Buyers Club for other men and women living with HIV/AIDS. These people were able to become members for a monthly 400 dollar fee, and receive the same ddC, peptide p, and other products Woodroof used.
What stood out to me throughout the film was Woodroof’s continuous fight with the Food and Drug Administration. Because the medications he used were not FDA approved he goes through fines, a raid, and ultimately to the courts. The Food and Drug Administration tries their hardest to stop Woodroof from selling these medications and other products that he acquired in Mexico. The FDA tries to stop the sell of the medications even though they actually wound up having more beneficial affects on Woodroof and the many other HIV/AIDS positive patients.
While Mcconaughey’s performance was amazing, something more really stuck out to me . That’s when I noticed a connection that took me back to my first quarter of a Critical Thinking and Writing class that surrounded the topics of food, self, and culture. Throughout this class we learned about the atrocities going on within the food industry. We learned a lot about the lack transparency between the food industry and us the consumers. For one of my first essays, I specifically focused on the FDA and the corruption that envelops it. I learned about the many former Monsanto employees that work for the FDA. And as well as the politicians that were funded by Monsanto who are now key players within the FDA as well. So there while watching Dallas Buyers Club, I made the connection that the FDA hasn’t really had the best interest of the consumer in mind for a while. And while the food industry and Dallas Buyers Club may seem to have little in common, they actually do. It’s the FDA not doing their job. From the information I researched and by watching the film, I learned that an entity meant to protect us, seemed to be doing just the opposite even as far back as the 1980’s.
This movie is very unique because it ends up exposing to the viewer that the FDA was doing the very opposite of what it was founded upon. Ron Woodroof’s story highlights how FDA policies (and, by implication, government itself) can wind up doing the opposite of what they are “designed” to do (Smith). The film expertly portrays the FDA as at best slow off the mark to make potentially life-saving drugs available to dying people and at worst a corrupt organization that is essentially a puppet of the pharmaceutical industry it means to regulate (Smith). Through Woodroof’s story the FDA having ulterior profit based motives is apparent. Woodroof actually had documents and research examining his time on the unapproved medications. He was willing to share his findings with the FDA, but they refused. Him being able to prolong his life, and the life of others show that there were some beneficial qualities to the drugs that they were taking. The FDA served as the roadblock in approving these life-saving drugs in a timely manner. They used their power over terminally-ill patients that just wanted to improve their lives and lessen symptoms.
The FDA essentially hurts more than it helps. With many potentially life-saving drugs that exist, the duration it takes to get approved is extremely long. The “FDA’s often arbitrary but always time-intensive requirements have created a system in which new drugs take somewhere around 10 to 15 years to come to market” (Gillepese). According to Columbia University economist Frank Lichtenberg, increased drug approvals and health expenditure per person jointly explain just about 100 percent of the seven-year increase in life expectancy at birth between 1960 and 1997. This shows that the timely approval of certain drugs helped save lives, and helped people to live longer. However today the FDA is actually helping to hinder this. According to biotechnology writer Ronald Bailey the FDA, “may be killing more people than it saves.” How’s that? “If it takes the FDA ten years to approve a drug that saves 20,000 lives per year that means that 200,000 people died in the meantime” (Gillepse).
One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Woodroof in a crowed hall with HIV/AIDS patients and says, “People are dying. And y’all up there [drug companies] are afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you,” You see the pharma companies pay the FDA to push their product. They don’t want to see my research. I don’t have enough cash in my pocket to make it worth their while” (Smith). Through Woodroof words, the true intentions of the FDA are clearly illustrated. They have motives that are driven purely by money and profits. Woodroof essentially helped more people than the FDA approved drug did. Through this movie it is made clear that “Only deep-pocketed companies can play the FDA game, and that’s why they’re glad the FDA is around — to stave off competition from small businessmen like Ron Woodroof” (Smith). This phenomenom of deep-pocketed companies benefiting from the FDA, is also evident in the food industry as well.
For one of my favorite essays, I explored the corruption and dishonesty that plagues the FDA in regards to food. I examined the number of Monsanto and other big food company employees that were or that are currently employed with the FDA. I looked at the “revolving door” phenomenon. This is when, one minute an employee is working at a corporation and the next he or she is at the FDA or another government department (Murray). I did not know that this culture of corruption still existed even in the 1980’s when Dallas Buyers Club took place. I then came up with the connection that the medications that Woodroof used to prolong his life an extra seven years were not approved until many years later. But Monsanto’s GMO’s which have been proven to have dire consequences on our health are on the shelves in almost every super market. This then shows that FDA can and will approve something, if the price is right.
Like the pharmaceutical companies in the Dallas Buyers Club, Monsanto is a key player when it comes to the FDA. Genetically Modified foods first hit the supermarket in 1994 with the FDA approved Flavr Savr tomato The delayed-ripening tomato has a longer shelf life than conventional tomatoes (Karimi). Ever since then, GMO’s have taken over, and are almost in everything we eat. On the FDA’s website they claim that some of their responsibilities include, “protecting the public health by assuring that foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled. This responsibility entails regulating a large number of companies producing this nation’s food” (FDA). However, that statement seems extremely contradictory when companies like Monsanto have their products on almost every grocery shelf. And then to add insult to injury, they have their former employees work in high-powered positions within the FDA. These people are then responsible for making critical decisions about what you and I eat.
Michael R. Taylor a former lawyer and Vice President of Public Policy at Monsanto was hired by the FDA under the Clinton and Obama administration. He spent years helping Monsanto maneuver around legal rules to get their bovine growth hormone “rgBH” on the market. Soon enough he came to work for the FDA, and became a main authority behind the their rgBH labeling guidelines (Reynolds). And then there’s Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. He was a former lawyer for Monsanto as well. In every case (one of the most noticeable being Bowman vs. Monsanto) he rules in the favor of his former employer even if the evidence proves otherwise. Then there is Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and former Secretary of Health and Human Services. While he was governor, Thompson lifted a moratorium that would ban the approval of rgBH. Despite the fact that 90% of calls that came to office supported the moratorium, he still decided against it. He then became the Secretary of Health and Human Services or the “boss” of the FDA (“Secretary of Health &”).
Uknowillingly while watching Dallas Buyers Club, I was able to make a connection that took me back to one of the first college essays I had ever written. I was able to see the extent in which the FDA has become for the health big food and pharmaceutical businesses, instead for the health and well-being of the consumers. I didn’t know that this phenomenon was happening way before the introduction of GMO’s. It was happening as far back as the 1980’s with Ron Woodroof. It’s extremely upsetting that an agency that we have put so much of our trust in, has had an extensive track record of corruption and deceit. They can approve dangerous GMO’s, but can deny the terminally-ill potentially life saving drugs.
If I had never taken this Critical Thinking and Writing class, I would still be uninformed as to what is truly going on in our world. What I have taken away is to always delve deeper than what is shown. Meaning do extensive research, and find out the bigger picture as to what is going on. There is always something deeper than is what is presented to us. When I first started class, I didn’t know what was going on behind the close doors of the FDA. Like many others, I blindly assumed that they had our best interest at heart. However I soon found out that there is so much more behind this agency than what they claim they do. They can deny terminally ill patients life saving medication, but can put GMO’s on our grocery shelves and ultimately into our bodies. That why it’s imperative to find the facts out for yourself. Research can help open those doors that have been so tightly shut. If I had never taken this class, I would have never been able to fully understand Ron Woodroof’s struggles, and I would still be blind to the lies, corruption, and dishonesty that envelops many aspects our world.
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