- The American health system, like clockwork, causes a
mind-boggling number of deaths every year.
- The figures have been known for a decade. The story was
covered briefly when a landmark study surfaced, and then it sank like a
- The truth was inconvenient for many interests. That has
not changed. "Medical coverage for all" is a banner that conceals
- On July 26, 2000, the US medical community received a
titanic shock to the system, when one of its most respected public-health
experts, Dr. Barbara Starfield, revealed her findings on healthcare in
America. Starfield was, and still is, associated with the Johns Hopkins
School of Public Health.
- The Starfield study, "Is US health really the
best in the world?", published in the Journal of the American
Medical Association, came to the following conclusions:
- Every year in the US there are:
- 12,000 deaths from unnecessary surgeries;
- 7,000 deaths from medication errors in hospitals;
- 20,000 deaths from other errors in hospitals;
- 80,000 deaths from infections acquired in hospitals;
- 106,000 deaths from FDA-approved correctly prescribed
- The total of medically-caused deaths in the US every
year is 225,000.
- This makes the medical system the third leading cause
of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer.
- The Starfield study is the most disturbing revelation
about modern healthcare in America ever published. The credentials of its
author and the journal in which it appeared are, within the highest medical
- On the heels of Starfield's astonishing findings, media
reporting was extensive, but it soon dwindled. No major newspaper or television
network mounted an ongoing "Medicalgate" investigation. Neither
the US Department of Justice nor federal health agencies undertook prolonged
- All in all, those parties who could have taken effective
steps to correct this situation preferred to ignore it.
- I interviewed Dr. Starfield by email. This is an edited
version of the interview.
- In the medical research community, have your medically-caused
mortality statistics been debated, or have these figures been accepted,
albeit with some degree of shame?
- The findings have been accepted by those who study them.
There has been only one detractor, a former medical school dean, who has
received a lot of attention for claiming that the US health system is the
best there is and we need more of it. He has a vested interest in medical
schools and teaching hospitals (they are his constituency).
- Have health agencies of the federal government consulted
with you on ways to mitigate the effects of the US medical system?
- Are you aware of any systematic efforts, since your 2000
JAMA study was published, to remedy the main categories of medically caused
deaths in the US?
- No systematic efforts; however, there have been a lot
of studies. Most of them indicate higher rates [of death] than I calculated.
- Can you offer an opinion about how the FDA can be so
mortally wrong about so many drugs?
- Yes, it cannot divest itself from vested interests. [There
is] a large literature about this, mostly unrecognized by the people because
the industry-supported media give it no attention.
- Did your 2000 JAMA study sail through peer review, or
was there some opposition to publishing it?
- It was rejected by the first journal that I sent it to,
on the grounds that 'it would not be interesting to readers'!
- Would it be correct to say that, when your JAMA study
was published in 2000, it caused a momentary stir and was thereafter ignored
by the medical community and by pharmaceutical companies?
- Are you sure it was a momentary stir? I still get at
least one email a day asking for a reprint---ten years later! The problem
is that its message is obscured by those that do not want any change in
the US health care system.
- Since the FDA approves every medical drug given to the
American people, and certifies it as safe and effective, how can that agency
remain calm about the fact that these medicines are causing 106,000 deaths
- Even though there will always be adverse events that
cannot be anticipated, the fact is that more and more unsafe drugs are
being approved for use. Many people attribute that to the fact that the
pharmaceutical industry is (for the past ten years or so) required to pay
the FDA for reviews---which puts the FDA into an untenable position of
working for the industry it is regulating. There is a large literature
- Aren't your 2000 findings a severe indictment of the
FDA and its standard practices?
- They are an indictment of the US health care industry:
insurance companies, specialty and disease-oriented medical academia, the
pharmaceutical and device manufacturing industries, all of which contribute
heavily to re-election campaigns of members of Congress. The problem is
that we do not have a government that is free of influence of vested interests.
Alas, [it] is a general problem of our society-which clearly unbalances
- What was your personal reaction when you reached the
conclusion that the US medical system was the third leading cause of death
in the US?
- I had previously done studies on international comparisons
and knew that there were serious deficits in the US health care system,
most notably in lack of universal coverage and a very poor primary care
infrastructure. So I wasn't surprised.
- Do the 106,000 deaths from medical drugs only involve
drugs prescribed to patients in hospitals, or does this statistic also
cover people prescribed drugs who are not in-patients in hospitals?
- I tried to include everything in my estimates. Since
the commentary was written, many more dangerous drugs have been added to
- INTERVIEWER COMMENTS:
- This interview with Dr. Starfield reveals that, even
when an author has unassailable credentials within the medical-research
establishment, the findings can result in no changes made to the system.
- Yes, many persons and organizations within the medical
system contribute to the annual death totals of patients, and media silence
and public ignorance are certainly major factors, but the FDA is the assigned
gatekeeper, when it comes to the safety of medical drugs. The buck stops
there. If those drugs the FDA is certifying as safe are killing, like clockwork,
106,000 people a year, the Agency must be held accountable. The American
people must understand that.
- As for the other 119,000 people killed every year as
a result of hospital treatment, this horror has to be laid at the doors
of those institutions. Further, to the degree that hospitals are regulated
and financed by state and federal governments, the relevant health agencies
- It is astounding, as well, that the US Department of
Justice has failed to weigh in on Starfield's findings. If 225,000 medically
caused deaths per year is not a crime by the Dept. of Justice's standards,
then what is?
- To my knowledge, not one person in America has been fired
from a job or even censured as result of these medically caused deaths.
- The pharmaceutical giants stand back and carve up the
populace into "promising markets." They seek new disease labels
and new profits from more and more toxic drugs. They do whatever they can-legally
or illegally-to influence doctors in their prescribing habits. Some drug
studies which cast new medicines in a negative light are buried. FDA panels
are filled with doctors who have drug-company ties. Legislators are incessantly
lobbied and supported with pharma campaign monies.
- Nutrition, the cornerstone of good health, is ignored
or devalued by most physicians. The FDA continues to attack nutritional
supplements, even though the overall safety record of these nutrients is
good, whereas, once again, the medical drugs the FDA certifies as safe
are killing 106,000 Americans per year.
- Physicians are trained to pay exclusive homage to peer-reviewed
published drug studies. These doctors unfailingly ignore the fact that,
if medical drugs are killing a million Americans per decade, the studies
on which those drugs are based must be fraudulent or, at the very least,
massively incompetent. In other words, the whole literature is suspect,
unreliable, and impenetrable.
- © 2010 Jon Rappoport - All Rights Reserved
- "Never in the history of the world has there been
a situation so bad that the government couldn't make it worse."