Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Vanessa's Law, A Father's Passion

"Four doctors knew that Vanessa was taking Prepulsid for bloating and a mild form of bulimia, yet neither Vanessa nor we, her parents, were given any warning that the drug was already responsible for 80 deaths. Why?"
"At the moment, Health Canada has to negotiate with a company to get a drug off the market. Letters go back and forth, as the body count rises."
"I was up here for three years [in Parliament] and everyone thought I'd lost my objectivity and was exaggerating. My book came out in 2009 and I sent a copy to every MP and senator. I discovered that many parliamentarians don't read books."
"I met the prime minister a few years back and he took a great interest. I told him about the case of Allison Borges, an 18-year-old Queen's University student, whose body was found in a stairwell. She'd died from a blood clot after taking a birth control pill."
"I felt like I had reached the end of a very long journey. Then I walked downstairs into the lower hallway of the House of Commons, found a quiet corner, covered my face with my hands and wept."
"Vanessa's Law will save thousands of lives. Seventy percent of adverse drug reactions are preventable. Once it's fully implemented, it will save thousands of lives, I have no doubts."
"I'm happy I did it [persevered] but I can see how it could have ruined lives if I hadn't been successful.
Conservative Member of Parliament for Oakville, Ontario, Terence Young

Vanessa’s Law moves closer to approval thanks to Oakville MP Terence Young
photo courtesy Terence Young  MP Terence Young, wife Gloria, late daughter Vanessa (middle).
Prime Minister Harper was moved by listening to Mr. Young. Not only because he had lost his daughter at age 15, in an entirely preventable way, but because he was being briefed on the dangers inherent in lax government oversight when it comes to prescription drugs with reported morbid side effects; side effects whose danger to the well-being of those for whom it was prescribed were so lethal that 80 deaths were recorded, and still nothing was done to take the drug off the market.

The bill that Mr. Young -- as a bereaved father and Member of Parliament doggedly pursued in memory of his daughter's needless death and his determination to ensure that what happened to his daughter Vanessa and others wouldn't occur again in Canada, leading to a reform of significant proportions to drug-safety legislation -- is about to receive royal assent. Health Minister Rona Ambrose informed her colleague of her intention to have the bill named after his daughter.

Having received unanimous support in the House of Commons, and the bill currently before committee in the Senate, the bill is set to become law in Canada within a month. "It will be a milestone in my life", he says. "I've been doing this for 14 years." The prescription drug Prepulsid, meant for the relief of her condition of mild bulemia stopped Vanessa's heart with no prior warning, causing her death.

Her grieving father, looking for answers to the trauma that deprived his family of their 15-year-old daughter, began studying the drug industry, poring through tomes at the pharmaceutical library of the University of Toronto. His discoveries led to the writing of a book titled Death By Prescription. And it set him on the trajectory of a lone man doing his utmost to discomfit the pharmaceutical industry which in return is supporting the bill cautiously.

"Patient safety is a top priority for our members. We support [Vanessa's Law] -- it codifies the manner in which our members already behave and interact with Health Canada", stated Isabelle Robillard, spokesperson for RX & D, the association of Canadian research-based pharmaceutical companies, even while the industry questions amendments to the bill, claiming they would broaden Health Canada's powers of disclosure of confidential business information.

"We are unclear as to the legislative intent of these changes and whether or not they impact patient safety", Ms. Robillard said. To which Mr. Young responds this simply demonstrates the extent of concern drug companies share relating not to consumer safety, but to their patents and shareholder value. "What it will do is make sure doctors get real information on adverse effects of drugs and patients are empowered to make a decision based on knowing the true risks."

Those who read Death By Prescription will learn that prescription drugs, used as prescribed to them by their trusted physicians, are the fourth leading cause of death in North America. As such, one must conclude that "side-effects" represent extremely serious considerations, information about which should be readily available as a caution to be considered. Better yet, physicians who do the prescribing should be more fully cognizant of the side effects, and relate them during the time of prescribing them to their patients.

Yet, Mr. Young writes, potentially life-threatening drugs are prescribed to patients with non-life-threatening conditions, whose application can be lethal; a trade-off that benefits only the pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Young has come to the conclusion that doctors, researchers and the drug industry all are aware of the problem, but doctors and politicians, particularly in the U.S., are compliant with an industry that has the funding to sway them away from any possible caution.


The bill named Vanessa's Law gives the government power to recall unsafe drugs without the cooperation of the pharmaceutical company, and to direct pharmaceutical companies to change their labels to reflect health risks. Once the bill has passed, government will have the power to impose unlimited fines for criminal negligence, including imprisonment for pharmaceutical executives should they be found guilty of such negligence.

Health institutions such as hospitals and clinics will also be impacted by the bill which makes it incumbent upon them by force of law relating to disclosure, to report serious adverse drug reactions in a formal manner. It gives the minister of health the power to compel drug companies to test their product if concerns surface, and to have them ensure they provide the government with the results.

Mr. Young's obsession with the circumstances and carelessness surrounding his young daughter's untimely death motivated him to push forward in his determination to produce something worthwhile from his personal tragedy. He was intent on ensuring that other families would not suffer the agony his did, losing a child from a perfectly preventable cause. "I wasn't going to succumb to anger. But I was prepared to raise holy hell", he said with perfect equanimity.

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