Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
"Enlightened science" and the Truth Campaign
The Internet Anti-Fascist for Tuesday, 16 May, 2000 (Vol 4, Number 41 if you want to get technical), carried an interesting item under the heading Web Sites Of Interest. I quote: "The Truth Campaign [sic]: Conspiracies, Health Issues, Enlightened Science, Spirituality" http://www.vegan.swinternet.co.uk/truthcampaign.html "This web site is interesting for the empirical evidence it provides for the existence of `green fascism' and how those phenomenon grouped under `New Age' can easily take on a reactionary form. "The site features the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review and Radio Islam. It describes Nazi war crimes denier, David Irving, as "the world's foremost WW2 historian" and features a new translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, [an anti-semitic Tsarist forgery]. "At the same time it features People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Vegan Society, and the British Anti-Vivisection Association. "It seems that Jews and the Roma (`Gypsies'), but not dogs and cats, are the only groups that can be ethically vivisected!" The Nazis, of course, also affected a great love for animals. SS officers, who could watch with equanimity while a human being was gruesomely tortured or murdered, would profess themselves shocked at the sight of a child teasing a kitten. And I wonder just what The Truth Campaign means by "enlightened science"? It is usually a cover for a very unscientific mixture of science and mysticism.
* * *A Tale of two Pills
The US Internet advocacy group Women Organising for Change (WOC) has produced some interesting facts about the different treatment meted out to two very different pills. One is Viagra, the cure for the flagging phallus. The other is mifepristone (known in Europe as RU 486), which "moves abortion out of the surgical suite and into the medicine cabinet". Viagra is a powerful example of the power of marketing over health matters. Despite concerns about side effects and medical risks, Viagra was licensed in the US (and subsequently Australia) quickly and easily. It was obviously going to sell like hot cakes and right wing pressure groups would have no objections to an aid to male virility (and that all important procreation). Money was poured into development and then into promotion. As WOC says, once it was invented there was no stopping it: In the US, "any doctor could prescribe it, and most have, especially if asked by their patients. Nearly every [health] insurance company covered it — even the Pentagon, which had a Viagra budget of $50 million for the first year alone". (What would the Pentagon want with $50 million worth of Viagra? Probably better not to know.) By contrast, mifepristone (RU-486), a life-saving, life-enhancing medication, has encountered one political stumbling block after another. Clinical trials of this antiprogestin began in the US in 1983, but it was in France that it first became available, in 1988. The following year, the US Congress bowed to right wing anti-woman pressure and coerced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into specifically banning the importation of the drug. Bush was in the White House and the Republicans would have no truck with "abortion pills" or anything else that smacked of feminism. A woman's place was you know where, and a large part of their vote depended on keeping her there. The fact that millions of women worldwide were using RU-486 safely, and that clinical trials in the US reinforced that safety record, counted for nothing, since the drug's medical qualifications were not really at issue. For over a decade now, "US feminists, led largely by the Feminist Majority Foundation, have lobbied worldwide, negotiated for patent rights, boycotted companies, signed petitions, raised money and supported or opposed political candidates to get mifepristone available in the US". In a backhanded way, they were aided in this by the right wing itself, whose increasing violence against abortion clinics put pressure on the US government to decentralise abortion services to prevent medical personnel being assassinated by Christian fundamentalist fanatics. One of Clinton's election promises in 1992 was a pledge to bring mifepristone to US women. When elected, he signed an Executive Order instructing the FDA to re-evaluate the RU486 import alert and directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "assess initiatives...[that can] promote the testing, licensing, and manufacturing of RU-486 or other antiprogestins". Nevertheless, the political obstruction continued. Not until this year — the final year of Clinton's second term — did it look like mifepristone would finally be made available to the US public. But the right-wing had yet another trick up their sleeve. The FDA announced that yes, it would license the drug — but under extraordinary restrictions. Unlike other drugs, mifepristone could only be prescribed by physicians who were trained to perform abortions and who had ultrasound facilities on hand and easy access to emergency facilities. These restrictions meant mifepristone could only be prescribed by ... abortion clinics! So much for decentralising abortion services or protecting medical personnel from the religious right's war of attrition. There is no medical reason to justify these outrageous restrictions. They are purely political. Doesn't it make you glad you don't live in The Greatest Country on Earth?