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Pfizer Accused of Experimenting on Kids

Pfizer Accused of Experimenting on Kids

The Supreme Court gave a rare hit to private businesses when it declined to take up a case against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.  The suit alleges the drug company conducted nonconsensual drug testing on over 200 Nigerian children, some of whom died as a result of the tests.  The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) which grants federal judges the ability to hear civil lawsuits filed by non-US citizens for violations of the “law of nations”.  By declining to hear Pfizer’s appeal and entertain its argument that it cannot be sued in an American court for these claims the Supreme Court has allowed the matter to move forward to trial.

According to the complaint, in 2006 Pfizer employees, working with Nigerian officials, recruited 200 sick children during a viral outbreak in Kano, Nigeria in order to test a new product.  Half of the children recruited were given Trovan, an experimental drug never tested on children.  The other half of the recruits received a Food and Drug Administration-approved antibiotic.

While Trovan had never before been tested on children, it had been tested on animals, and those clinical trials showed the drug had life-threatening side effects.  But according to the complaint, Pfizer never advised the children or their guardians about those lethal side-effects, nor did Pfizer ever advise the recruits that the relief group Doctors Without Borders was providing a “conventional and effective treatment” for the virus, free of charge, at the very same hospital.

Plaintiffs of the suit are surviving children of the drug experiments and relatives of the children who died.  The children who survived the experiments were left deaf, blind, paralyzed, or brain damaged.  Normally such claims would be filed in Nigeria, the location of the drug experiments, but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that Nigerian courts are too corrupt and only the American court system can adequately bring Pfizer to justice.  Pfizer has denied that the Nigeria experiments were conducted without the consent and knowledge of the children and their guardians and want the case thrown out of court because, according to Pfizer, the drug experiments are not a specific violation of international law and thus not covered under the Alien Tort Statute.

And Pfizer is fighting this case hard, arguing that the Alien Tort Statute should not be read to allow these kinds of claims.  Pfizer’s issued statement claims that suits like these are in reality a discriminatory tax on American companies who do business abroad.

But the lawyers for the Nigerian children see it a little differently, arguing that multinational corporations should not get to hide behind jurisdictional arguments if they prey on the vulnerable.  Quite simply, Pfizer wasn’t engaged in any legitimate international commerce during these experiments, so to call ATS suits a “tax” on business is really something else.

Shortly after the US suit was filed Nigerian officials filed their own lawsuit which Pfizer agreed to settle last year.  In that case Pfizer announced it would pay a $75 million settlement in exchange for the dismissal of all civil and criminal charges filed in Nigeria.  The settlement purportedly also establishes a fund to benefit the children involved in the drug experiments.

It’s doubtful that Pfizer would have engaged in similar behavior in the United States, and the positioning by the Supreme Court means a settlement is just as likely as a trial as Pfizer will want to keep as much of these events out of the mainstream American press as possible.  But it does serve as an important marker for those trying to protect the most vulnerable from what seems like never-ending abuses from the private sector.

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photo courtesy of MikeBlyth via Flickr

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118 comments

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11:20PM PDT on May 26, 2011

Watch 'Guinea Pig Kids' on YouTube~ A short documentary [only 3 parts] filmed by The BBC. Learn what the city of NY, foster care system & BigPharma did to poor, black & hispanic HIV positive kids. It's being done right here people~

1:43AM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

Thank you for sharing!

8:30PM PDT on Aug 7, 2010

This is disgusting. The fact that Pfizer are arguing on the technicalities of the case rather than the substance suggests that they did it. Also the fact that they settled in Nigeria also suggests guilt.

I am currently taking the Pfizer medication Champix (Chantix in US) to assist me to give up smoking, this revelation means that I have some serious thinking to do prior to getting my next prescription. I hate giving evil people my money!

10:07PM PDT on Jul 18, 2010

It just amazes me that a company would purposely gop into an impoverished country and prey on sick children know that the parents would do whatever it takes to heal their children. Inhumane indeed!

11:49AM PDT on Jul 16, 2010

Corporations are conscienceless, we must prosocute the people who make and approve these decisions, and fine the corporation substantially enough to make it HURT.

3:16AM PDT on Jul 16, 2010

Is it enough to pay compensation?
Please explain why interpol has not arrested these international criminals?
For this is what the executives who knowingly set up this operation are.
Why are american corporate officials allowed to commit crimes against humanity and be free from criminal prosecution?

8:39PM PDT on Jul 14, 2010

Does greed know no bounds? This is criminal!

10:47AM PDT on Jul 14, 2010

Hello! I've been reading some of your articles. There's a lot of great and important info like this. Now, i'm wondering if i can transtalate your articles to spanish and put in my blog. Of course, with due credit and all, not my writting, just supporting Care2 by posting this in spanish.

10:23AM PDT on Jul 14, 2010

It's very inhumane and very senseless, selfish. It's liek using them as guinea pigs. Like when I was on anti-depressants...

10:44AM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

Simply appalling behavior.

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