GOING TO THE WALL FOR THE GREATER GOOD
A tale of one individual doing precisely what I believe many more of us need to be ready to do. Followed by a tale of a second individual doing the same :
John Kopchinski’s story is becoming well-known, I have heard it on radio news reports, and found it on other websites in addition to at Reuters here.
A few years back, Kopchinski, with a young family, lost a good corporate income. He and his family lived on savings and eventually on $40K/yr when he found a new position. He lost his corporate position because his company (Pfizer, a drug company giant) wanted him to promote as many as thirteen drugs for unapproved uses and doses. He refused, and as he anticipated, was fired.
Pfizer carried on. Extreme health risks for users of the medications was the result. Kopchinski filed a writ of ‘qui tam’ – whereby a private individual who assists a prosecution can receive all or part of any penalty – offering possible compensation to ‘whistleblowers’. He is presently in the news because the case is now settled, and Kopchinski, along with several others, is awarded a very large sum. The sum is great – but it’s not the important part of this story.
What is important is that a citizen took principled action against his own immediate gain. Kopchinski’s legal action is also important as it turns out Pfizer has been in court, and has lost, before. The company has a history of questionable, un-principled, behavior in the name of profit.
A second whistle-blowing individual in the news of late is Wendell Potter, long time Vice President in charge of Public Relations at Cigna. Wendell Potter’s “spark for change” has key differences from John’s Kopchinski’s. Wendell was already planning and co-ordinating highly successful public relations work to help Cigna avoid public outcry at some of its health insurance profit garnering practices. (Practices aimed at decreasing corporate cost by not covering policies when they were most needed, and other practices that are within the industry generally.)
Wendell happened to be in his ‘old stomping grounds’ and out of curiosity traveled to a Remote Access Medical weekend in the area. The RAM events offer maximum possible dental, vision, and health consultation and treatment to thousands who have no insurance. Doctors, dentists, technicians, nurses and others volunteer — (a different type of ‘going to the wall’!)
Typically RAMs are held in large facilities, this one (that Potter visited), a county fair grounds, with animal housing converted to treatment areas recalling “M.A.S.H.” set-ups. Wendell was curious. He had professional interest in health care; he’d never seen one of these events; it gave him opportunity to enjoy the company of folks he’d grown up among. What he witnessed sparked Wendell’s turning ‘whistle-blower’.
Wendell now speaks clearly, with deep and detailed knowledge, of practices used by large for-profit health insurance companies to maximize profit for shareholder satisfaction. Decreasing expenditure is accomplished by denial of patient treatment coverage, and denying insurance policies pre-existing conditions, and similar practices. To hear Wendell’s story straight from him (rather than my informal summary, which may be generally true but not ‘dead on accurate’) and to hear him describe corporate health insurance practices in detail, see his interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal.
These two individuals take “citizenship” (responsibility) to heart. Kopchinski and Potter demonstrate great courage. They undertook private review of personal ethics vs income enjoyed. They chose personal upheaval in established, comfortable life routines. They disrupted family lives, and faced uncertain economic future (particularly Kopchinski, as he is younger, and had less time to develop financial independence prior to his refusal to cooperate with Pfizer.)
Kopchinski and Potter are not as unique as we might assume. We can never know the number of times individuals take uncomfortable or unpopular stands against “status quo”, and “unquestioned acceptability” of group behavior. Anytime a child stands up to one of his/her own friends who may be ‘bad-mouthing’ a third party or group; any time a member of a ‘rough crowd’ finds a way to challenge or speak against an intended and wrong group action; it is the same underlying Principle at work. When a colleague approaches a colleague to respectfully confront questionable ethics – it the same.
There are times of injustices, small and large, that all of us could become more alert to. We could all do better in accordance with fundamental Principles of ‘noble’ action. Concepts of honesty, decency, respect, Justice, and Compassion exist for a reason; they cannot not emerge in human society. They will occur again and again – often requiring ‘whistle blowers’ until we develop more equitable and compassionate/just societies.
I agree with writers of the Declaration of Independence – these Principles and a few others are innate,“inalienable”. They cannot be separated from “natural consciousness”. They arrive with each of us at birth, and are made present in thought and action or not, based on what we are taught, what we witness. We can learn to discover these Principles within ourselves and honor them by our practice.
Or, if we are raised in environments in which these Principles are disregarded, or treated as ‘wimpy’, ‘nerdy’, or “not useful in a competitive, ‘dog-eat-dog’ reality, we may learn to dis-value, and dis-honor, them. Deep, deep, down, we “know” there is a truth to these concepts. Deep, deep, down, we “know” that it is up to ‘somebody, (possibly ‘me’ ), to act in accordance with these Principles.
Even in small situations, and certainly in large – individual acts of courage to challenge injustices are heroic. Often the risks are considerable. In the toughest situations, life threatening.
But we would serve ourselves very well to help these acts become “not that unique after all”.
Human behavior toward selfishness, tribalism, and eventually greed, has been explained – or so we have assumed. But current thought now suggests it was not until the dawn of agriculture and settled communities that our ‘tribal’ and ‘individual achievement, fame or wealth’ began to dominate and lead to ‘serious’ class and caste societies. Further, both social and neuro/biological sciences are discovering there’s more ‘cooperation’ and ‘mutual benefit’ activity going on in the human psyche and in the animal kingdom than we’ve been willing to acknowledge.
In any case, we’ve gone far enough – too far. We’ve reached levels of “the rest be damned”, and “how can we milk the system for our gain?” Kopchinski and Potter, and thousands, possibly millions, of those who “stand on Principle” help to re-awaken what we know is needed. They model behaviors, and give us experience so that we better notice how honesty and integrity can serve. These are US stories. That we have both in news – on the heels of one another – hints at a shift, I believe toward returning to ‘noble Principles’. I also believe this shift is global. Because these Principles are “inherent”, they are also Universal within the human psyche, within each anywhere in the world. How fortunate that we find strong examples of the shift among ourselves!
Most Grateful Thanks to the two mentioned here – and to each one reading who has, at some moment large or small, taken action on behalf of Justice and Compassion, Fairness and Honesty, especially if it meant ‘risk to personal comfort’. Thanks, also, to any reading who have thought about this kind of challenge, even if they are not sure they have ever faced it, or taken action when facing it.
Thoughtfulness is where change begins. Thank You! – MaggieAnn