A pathologist’s testimony in the nation’s first Vioxx trial has dealt a blow to Vioxx’s manufacturer Merck & Co. Dr. Maria Araneta the pathologist who performed the crucial 2001 autopsy on Robert Ernst stated in deposition testimony that Ernst’s death from arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, was probably brought on by a heart attack even though such an admission was not noted in her autopsy report. Her opinion counters Vioxx maker Merck & Co.’s reliance on her report to bolster its position that Mr. Ernst didn’t have a heart attack. “Arrhythmia does not spontaneously occur. Something must trigger it,” Dr. Araneta stated in her deposition on Tuesday.
The jury in the first Vioxx trial heard a lot of evidence last week that Merck hid the risks of Vioxx. Dr. Nancy Santanello, a senior Merck scientist was questioned about documents that showed Merck was concerned about Vioxx’s heart risks as early as 1998, even before it began selling Vioxx. Testimony showed that Merck never conducted a large study specifically designed to measure whether the long-term use of Vioxx raised cardiovascular risks- even though Dr. Edward Scolnick, Merck’s top scientist, said it was essential that Merck run such a clinical trial. Approximately 20 million people took Vioxx between May 1999 and September 2004 when Merck withdrew the drug after a clinical trial showed that it was linked to heart attacks and strokes. Merck has reserved $675 million for its legal costs in defending Vioxx suits.
Bishop Anthony M. Pilla is facing more than lawsuits in Cleveland these days. The former head of the NCCB is accused of perjuring himself in testimony he gave at a deposition in a Cleveland clergy sex abuse case. In an unrelated matter that happened on the same day Pilla was accused of perjury, three women stood on the steps of the cathedral and said that Bishop Pilla had reneged on promises he made to them regarding their priest abuser. They also contend that Pilla hid the abuse and shuffled around abusive priests.
The Wall St. Journal is reporting that Guidant Corporation admitted Friday that one of the recommendations it made to physicians in June may make make the pacemaker problems worse and increase the risk to patients. Last month, Guidant issued safety warnings on 11 of its models affecting about 88,000 people.
In his new novel, “The Priestly Sins”, the Rev. Andrew Greeley tells the fictional story of Father Andrew Hoffman who witnesses a fellow priest brutally raping a child and is sent away to a mental institution for reporting the crime to his superiors.
Greeley, a prolific author and controversial priest-sociologist, pins the blame for the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on the shoulders of the bishops in the United States. “If the church had been responsive 20 years ago, none of this would have happened,” Greeley said in speaking about the crisis that has rocked the church in the United States since 2002. Greeley points out that the bishops have established a zero tolerance for priest abusers but there’s no oversight or discipline for bishops who hide abusive clergy or do nothing to stop the abuse from occurring.
I was invited onto the Pat Campbell show this morning in Orlando to discuss the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. We spent about 30 minutes talking about why the Church was slow to respond to the crisis as well as the ongoing cases I’m handling throughout the state of Florida and across the country. I also talked about how abusive priests were secretly transferred from parish to parish and in many instances, transferred from Diocese to Diocese. The most recent case in the Diocese of Orlando concerns the Rev. Vernon Uhran. The Diocese settled three cases for approximately $1.5 million against Uhran. Uhran moved around the Diocese of Orlando as well as stints in the Dominican Republic where he was working with youth and in Alaska. He was finally removed from active ministry in 1992 by then Bishop Dorsey.
The first civil suit against Merck, the manufacturer of the drug Vioxx, will be held in a small Texas town beginning this Thursday. Media and legal experts will be watching as Merck tries to stave off damning evidence that Merck knew of Vioxx’s heart risks and failed to conduct the necessary scientific studies before the drug was approved in 1999. The evidence that will be presented during the trial comes from company email messages as well as Merck internal memos and documents between top Merck scientists.
An FDA evaluation of the five Guidant defibrillators pulled from the market last month will take weeks not months. Guidant pulled the five defibrillators off the market after safety concerns arose. Daniel Schultz, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said it is up to patients and doctors to determine a course of action in cases where the devices have already been implanted in patients. Some of the deviced affected have been designated “Class I” by the FDA, meaning they have the highest priority recall, while others have been given a “Class II” designation. Class I means that there is a reasonable probability that the malfunctioning device could cause death or major adverse health consequences. The devices given Class I designation are Guidant’s Ventak Prizm 2 DR and Guidant’s Contak Renewal 1 and 2 devices. In other words three of the five Guidant defibrillators have a reasonable probability to cause death or very serious health problems.
Indicted on two rape charges by a grand jury last fall, Bishop Thomas Dupre of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts escaped criminal prosecution because the District Attorney decided that too much time had elapsed since the incidents of abuse occurred. Dupre resigned from his post and went into seclusion at St. Luke’s Institute, a treatment center in Maryland. Since that time, no one has seen or heard from the Bishop. This is in spite of two victims’ advocacy groups asking the Catholic Church for help in determining the Bishop’s whereabouts and removal from the priesthood. A Springfield diocesan spokesman skirted the issue by stating that it’s a matter for the Vatican to resolve. Supposedly, the Vatican is investigating Bishop Dupre but no word on the status of such investigation is forthcoming from the Diocese of Springfield or the Vatican’s representative in the United States, the Papal Nuncio. David Clohessy, Executive Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests commented, “We want to see these guys defrocked-not for punitive reasons but for preventative reasons. If they can’t call themselves priests, it will make access to kids a little tougher.” Priests and bishops who abuse children and are left unaccountable and unaccounted for can continue to harm children.
The manufacturer of Vioxx wants to delay the first wrongful death trial for at least 60 days. Merck & Co. filed a motion to delay the trial arguing that it can’t receive a fair trial if the case is heard next week as scheduled. Merck withdrew the drug last September when research revealed that patients who took it for 18 months or longer more than doubled their risk for heart attack and stroke. Since that time, more than 2,400 lawsuits have been filed nationwide. We are handling more than 50 cases for those who have been injured by the dangerous drug. The motion is expected to be heard Tuesday in a Wharton Texas courtroom. In the motion, lawyers for Merck cited recent publicity about the drug which, according to Merck, “effectively eliminated any possibility Merck can receive a fair trial beginning July 11.” The more important issue is fairness and justice for the victims of this dangerous drug Vioxx.