Book Review: Truth and Consequences for Medical Whistleblowers


From Undark: “Like journalist Tom Mueller’s ‘Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud,’ which features case studies on whistleblowing more broadly, [Carl Elliott’s book ‘The Occasional Human Sacrifice: Medical Experimentation and the Price of Saying No’] unfolds as a series of character profiles. He interviews an ace lineup of objectors, from Peter Buxtun, who exposed the U.S. government’s Tuskegee syphilis study in which Black men with the disease went untreated, to John Pesando, who raised alarms about a bone marrow transplant protocol that killed cancer patients. Elliott dissects his subjects’ moral anatomy with nuance and delicacy, describing the inner retrenchment that happens when whistleblowers, frustrated at going unheard by those in power, grow ever more cynical and aggrieved. Of Buxtun, Elliott observes, ‘He has the air of a man who fears the world is populated by blockheads and scoundrels.’

Tragically, that defensive posture may turn even more people away, especially those who question the crusader’s underlying motives. ‘From the outside,’ Elliott writes, ‘it is hard to know if a would-be whistleblower is an honest dissenter or a deranged conspiracy theorist.’

. . . Though Elliott doesn’t delve much into potential ways to make whistleblowing less daunting, his own experience likely steered him away from such optimistic framing. Even though an external review of the University of Minnesota’s research oversight program reported major flaws, no one at the university has yet admitted fault for what happened to the Seroquel study’s subjects. ‘It can be hard for whistleblowers to justify actions that have cost them so much and accomplished so little,’ Elliott writes. ‘They need a story in which their sacrifice makes sense.’

Despite Elliott’s disdain for Hollywood narratives, part of what elevates his book is its attempts to construct such a sense-making story. In bringing lesser-known whistleblowers’ acts to the forefront, he bends their narrative arcs, however subtly, in the direction of justice. Years after speaking out, Peter Buxtun, John Pesando, and Mary Weiss — and even Carl Elliott — remain in the process of becoming.”

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  1. Creativity isn’t some kind of achievement: it’s what the energies of our consciousness are – it is their mode of being, but the creative forms they produced are replicated by the mind and hand and this replication, this social and historical accumulation of fungible forms imposed back on life over time, is not creativity and prevents creativity. But creativity is an intrinsic property of spirit, and the means by which spirit heals and moves and gives. It is only out of creativity that comes beauty, harmony, and a creation that raises the vibration of the heart, rather then eviscerating it with leather briefcases and grey functional lines, these things being purgatory to the soul.

    Heart sick: cold statue it. Carve an evening world: :p:u:n:c:h: :f:u:c:k: :h:o:l:e:s :i:n: :i:t:

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