The People Vs Johnson & Johnson: A Legal Win, But A Loss For Medicine

by Dr. Ahmed Ismail
30th Sep 2018

In recent years, there’s been much debate regarding cancer and its causes. Essentially the debate has been: can domestic health and beauty products cause cancer?

In the USA, a major legal case evolved in 2016 when a woman took action against pharmaceutical brand Johnson & Johnson, claiming that her mother had died of ovarian cancer as a specific result of using talcum powder.

Scientifically, that is impossible. We cannot relate that woman’s death to talcum powder.

As humans, we need to understand that our bodily tissues are not static; they’re moving, changing constantly in both manifestation and response. This is known as Cellular Mutation and is subject to many factors, both biologically and environmentally. For example, as we grow, travel to different climates (freezing snow, bathing in the hot sun), fly at different altitudes, all of which have a direct relationship to changes in our cells.

Even what we eat has an effect. Think… plants, vegetables, animals (chicken, beef, fish)… they’re all growing living cells, tissues. Therefore, when we eat them they become part of us and impact our composition and functioning.

Do they carry carcinogenic effects? We don’t know. Why? Because we don’t fully understand what we are eating, only what we are told. We know that we’re eating a chicken. Ok, but where was that chicken raised and was it healthy? We know that that farm was healthy and sanitary, but was the chicken next to it? Was the farm next to it? And if not, did that farm’s soil transfer through nature over to this farm’s? And don’t get me started on the ocean. What about if we went fishing recreationally? Do we know which waters that fish has travelled through or what it ate? Of course not, it’s impossible. There are so many variables.

Of course, there are government regulations in place to protect us, to ensure that the food is healthy and free from harmful chemicals etc., but do we ever really know what happens? The horsemeat scandal proved that!

Moreover, we know that the food is healthy by the current standard of assessment BUT is that healthy to the point that they can predict the future of intake between the human and the animal or vegetable saying: do they stimulate any carcinogenic cells between the body or not? We don’t know.

However, we do know that we naturally have cancer cells in our body - all of us - and we also know that there are Macrophage cells. Their job is to eat excess cancer cells. There is also something called Leaky Gut. If there’s an excessive number of cancer cells in the body and the Macrophage Type 2 are unable to consume them, that’s when cancer manifests itself.

Where did the cancer come from? What is its stimulus? Does it come from something external? Is it from the food, what we inhale, eat, drink? Is it caused by what we’re exposed to, the materials we sleep on…? We don’t know. We are surrounded. But does that mean we should live in a protective cage? No. We need to live life, be healthy, not put ourselves at unnecessary risk and in the unfortunate eventuality that we are diagnosed with cancer, we need to trust that doctors and scientists can provide us with the very best facilities to ensure a quick diagnosis and successful treatment.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that you can’t blame Johnson & Johnson or talcum powder for this woman’s unfortunate death. (Although do use products responsiby, for example, if it says 'do not inhale', don't inhale and with specific relation to the vagina and genital area, ovarian cancer aside, you should avoid applying products to the area that have not been specifcially designed for that type of application. Doing so could result in avoidable infection.)

As clinicians and scientists, our job is always to find ways to suppress any extra cancer cells in the body, sometimes through medication, sometimes through enhancement of the immune system using diet, lifestyle changes etc. Not just discovering cures and treatments after the effect, but to discover ways to help prevent the cancer and other illnesses in the first place. (E.g. studies conducted by Harvard show that regularly consuming high doses of vitamin C either intravenously or orally along with other vitamins and minerals is linked with greater resilience to cancer and cellular suppression). We also endeavor to determine the causes so that the public is aware of what they should avoid (e.g. smoking).

Ultimately, there are so many factors that influence cancer, in it prognosis, manifestation, cure and prevention. We cannot relate it to one specific factor and as much as some pharmaceutical companies may be at fault, I don’t believe Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder to be one of them.

The most concerning factor about this case: that the daughter won. Pharmaceutical companies sometimes get a bad reputation in the media for causing health problems, but they are also largely responsible for funding research into the illnesses and drugs to cure them. Cases like this may encourage other people to try to sue them – we largely live in a ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ society, thinking of ourselves and ‘quick wins’ that benefit us as individuals, rather than the larger impact on society.


‘In the 1970’s manufacturers stopped using mineral talc to produce their products, switching to much safer corn starch after traces of asbestos were discovered in some mineral versions.'


That’s already been proven. Since the initial lawsuit, numerous other cases have emerged – more than 10,000 and not just for ovarian cancer! In April 2018, a New Jersey couple were awarded $117 million when the husband developed cancer. Johnson & Johnson are appealing. In May, Joanne and Gary Anderson were awarded $25.75 million – an avid bowler, Joanne claimed that using the baby powder in her bowling shoes and gloves led to her diagnosis of Pleural Mesothelioma (a cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, often associated with asbestos). In July, a Missouri jury awarded $4.69 billion to more than 20 women who blamed baby powder for their cancers. Again, Johnson & Johnson are appealing. And, most recently, last week (24th September) Carolyn Weirick of Pasedena, California, requested $25 million in damages for her Mesothelioma (a cancer linked to asbestos exposure), however this case ended with a mistrial when the jury failed to reach a verdict.

Yes, the pharmaceutical industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, but with so many legal costs that money doesn’t go far. Cases like this will never put pharmaceutical companies, doctors or scientists off progressing medicine, however it may make them much more cautious. And when it’s someone who you know who is ill, they matter.




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