Friday, August 28, 2009

Hurrah for the whistleblowers

Former U.S. health insurance exec Wendell Potter had an epiphany while sitting in a movie theatre watching Michael Moore's Sicko. He was there on assignment, taking notes that would enable his employer to counterattack with its own propaganda, but he found the film contained much that was convincing.

Then Potter saw lineups of uninsured people at a Tennessee charity clinic held in a fairgrounds horsebarn, an event he now describes as "life-changing." Potter decided to bail out of his highly paid job and go vocal on the sins of the healthcare insurance industry. His story is but the latest account of a courageous whistleblower who developed a backbone after years of complicit denial.

He follows in the footsteps of Jeffrey Wigand who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry, and Dr. David Graham, who spoke out about the dangers of the drug Vioxx. Canadian whistleblowers have included Joanna Gualtieri, who exposed lavish spending overseas by Foreign Affairs staff, and Dr. Nancy Olivieri, who broke a confidentiality agreement with her research sponsor Apotex by criticizing their drug deferiprone.

While there have been quite a few who have come forward over the years, their numbers are dwarfed by those who turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of their employers, and for good reason. They usually suffer loss of livelihood, are often sued by their former employers, and are frequently pilloried in the news media before being ultimately exonerated by the facts.

We owe a great debt to those who make such sacrifices in the public interest, taking the high road despite the knowledge that it will lead to such great personal hardship.

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