In the wake of the French Revolution of 1968, the government was still tottering when on February 4, 1970, sixteen miners died with twelve others maimed in an explosion at a mine in Lens in France. The mine owners pitched the event as an accident. It didn’t help their case that Northern France had a history mine disasters, including the worst ever in Europe in 1906 at almost exactly the same spot, when over a thousand men lost their life. This is the reason we have insurance, the owners said. This is what the law of 1898 was all about.
The miners called on the Left-Wing philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to prosecute their case. Sartre claimed there were no accidents. The owners knew there would be a certain number of deaths each year and factored this into their costs. There had been five the year before in a nearby mine. While injured workers thought of their job as risky and that when injured they had just been unlucky, Sartre thought they were wrong. It was murder, he said.
Calling these deaths murder made the disaster an event. If it was murder, the owners should go on trial. Capitalists in general should go on trial. Perhaps even the government. This was a pivotal moment for the Left. Despite the lack of trust of many in France in their government, society didn’t follow Sartre down this route. Perhaps because the French State made a display of solidarity. The Left lost its grip to a New Left and others who were looking for a Third Way.
A century earlier, faced with a predictable number of deaths from anesthesia each year, American surgeons, because anesthesia was developed there, faced questions about the ethics of doing evil in order to do good. If the patient died from the anesthetic, were they murderers?
We somehow collectively decided that no they weren’t. No one sees us as duped for doing so, even though roughly one per thousand anesthetic events today lead to death. There are likely more deaths from anesthesia than from mining disasters each year. There are certainly more deaths per person year exposure.
The death of the comedian, Joan Rivers, some years ago under light anesthesia for an endoscopy, rather than plastic surgery, threw a light on this issue. Deaths under anesthesia have been happening for one hundred and seventy years but every so often a death or other happening becomes an Event. In this case, nothing happened.
“With plastic surgery, the general anesthetic is like a black-velvety sleep, and that’s what death is – without waking up to someone clapping and going, ‘Joan, wake up, it’s all over and you’re looking pretty’.
What is less forgivable perhaps is that anesthetists have a blind spot for the difficulties that may emerge days or weeks later linked to their procedures and agents.
Where do the adolescents or young adults or any of us who commit suicide or homicide triggered by an SSRI taken, or given, on the back of studies like 329 fit? What do we call this?
Over the weekend, British papers were full of a trial involving a footballer and an inebriated woman where he was convicted of rape in the first instance, with the sentence later quashed in controversial fashion. American and world media were filled with stories of Donald Trump and the question of consent. In the light of Study 329, is the consent that people or their families have given to take a medication like paroxetine any more valid than the consent that, after the event, an inebriated woman is claimed to have given?
Like the mining accident in Lens, the Evans rape trials, the Trump candidacy, the republication of Study 329 is an event, possibly a pivotal moment. Details outlining trends in the rate at which articles are ghostwritten, or patients enter hospital because of treatment induced injuries, are features of the contemporary landscape, but every so often these features come together to make an Event and Events make history. They create a before and after – even if not necessarily right there and then.
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Adapted from DavidHealy.org
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.