Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Do You Get When You Marginalize Women?

More than ever, I’m now convinced that the fable about “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was actually meant to be a metaphorical jab at the Catholic Church. Growing up Catholic in the 1950s, I was taught that the Pope spoke with infallibility when he spoke “ex cathedra” on matters of faith and morals, so I assumed that his recent comments about condom use carried some substantive weight on the subject. I know now that, what I wasn’t taught in the 1950s, is that papal infallibility is subject to a vetting process by the Vatican PR machine, whereby an infallible comment by a Pope can be “clarified” so that the pontiff doesn’t come off looking like a befuddled old fool. It was in this spirit of Vatican “clarification” that I learned today that condom use hasn’t received a green light after all (see my blog of 11/23). What was I thinking??

This “clarification” comes on the same day that the archdiocese of Phoenix, Arizona severed its affiliation with a (formerly) Catholic hospital because a nun at the hospital chose to end an 11 week pregnancy to save the life of the mother. If you’ve ever wondered which life is valued most highly by the Catholic Church— the life of an adult woman or the life of an unborn fetus— the Bishop of Phoenix has answered the question. Incidentally, the Bishop excommunicated the nun at the hospital who made the life-saving decision. By contrast, priests who sodomize and molest young children are NOT excommunicated.

The global scandal over priestly pedophilia, by grabbing all the media attention, has masked the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is dysfunctional and morally bankrupt in many other ways that have nothing to do with children. What we see in Catholicism is an example of an institution that, by marginalizing women, has denied for itself the civilizing and soothing influence that women bring into every aspect of human affairs where they’re allowed to participate. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why any woman would freely choose to be Catholic when they have so many better options.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Love Story for Pfizer

It was just 15 months ago that Pfizer paid $2.3 billion in the largest healthcare fraud settlement ever. It also happened to be the largest criminal fine of any kind ever paid. Moreover, this was the fourth time Pfizer had been punished for illegal marketing activities since 2002, although the previous settlements had been much smaller. Most of the Pfizer malfeasance occurred in the form of “off label recommendation,” a common practice by pharmaceutical salespeople in which doctors are encouraged (and oftentimes even bribed) to prescribe medication in cases where the drug is not approved by the FDA, and the activity is played out within the incestuous relationship that’s evolved over the years between physicians and drug reps. Unless you’ve actually worked as a drug rep or worked in a medical office, it’s almost impossible to understand how a vendor-customer relationship can become so devious and dysfunctional.

I’m happy to report that, as of this week, the average person now has a voyeuristic window into this shadow world of back-scratching drug promotion. Just when Pfizer was comfortable knowing that the general public had forgotten about the $2.3 billion fine, Pfizer now has to watch its marketing machine pictured for all the world to see on the giant screen in the nearest multiplex. “Love and Other Drugs” is the title of a surprisingly good chick flick which opened in movie theaters this week, and the love story is played within the context of the world of medicine and big pharma (Pfizer), depicting pharmaceutical industry shenanigans with such uncanny accuracy that at times it almost informs the viewer like a documentary.

In a massive irony of coincidental timing, Pfizer CEO, Jeff Kindler, “resigned” (winky winky) this week to spend time with his family. The fact is, I don’t see how he tolerated the job at the top of Pfizer as long as he did. It was only twelve years ago that Pfizer, under the brilliant stewardship of Bill Steere, was voted by Fortune Magazine as the most respected corporation in America. Not only was Pfizer the best in both science and ethical marketing, but it was the darling of Wall Street, earning legitimate billions for its investors. It’s tantalizing to speculate what might have happened if Jeff Kindler had followed Bill Steere twelve years ago when Pfizer stock was at $48 and the shares were splitting every two years. Such was not the case, however. Kindler came in after eight years of Hank McKinnell, and by then the damage had been done. If you wonder about Pfizer stock, its price— just like the age of Peggy Sue— will forever be under 21.