- This Monday, June 13, which is Queen's Birthday here
in Australia, marks the 50th anniversary of the day in 1961 when a fine
young obstetrician, Dr. Willliam McBride, submitted a very urgent article
to the British medical journal, "The Lancet."
- Doctors in Sydney had been prescribing a sedative called
thalidomide for patients with 'nerves' or insomnia. McBride saw that thalidomide
worked well as an anti-emetic, so he prescribed it for morning sickness
in early pregnancy. Then, unexpectedly, three of the women in his practice
gave birth to boys with no radius, i.e., upper arm bone, and with missing
fingers. These boys also had a bowel obstruction, which led to death in
- The Lancet's deputy editor, Dr I Douglas-Wilson, said
that owing to a large number of important (!) papers awaiting publication,
McBride's submission was being returned to him. Impossible, you say? Yes,
of course, impossible -- in a decent world. But perfectly possible if the
powers-that-be were aware of what was going on, and wished it to remain
unnoticed until a lot of damage had been done. Ill argue that below. (Yes,
I do believe The Lancet knows what its doing, especially these days re
- At the end of his career, Dr McBride was subjected to
an unbelievable show trial that lasted four years, leaving him with a legal
bill of $2.2 million. It ended with the unfair decision, dated 1993, that
he was unfit to practice medicine. This story needs a re-look!
- Here are the relevant events of 1961 and 1962. This timeline
is derived from the book, "Killing the Messenger," by William
McBride (1996). I shall use three abbreviations:
- T for thalidomide / McB for McBride / Dis for Distillers
Biochemicals (makers of T)
- THE YEAR IS 1961.
- 4 May: first malformed baby born, but McB has no idea
what caused it.
- 24 May: second baby born. McB and hospital director Newlinds
puzzle over coincidence.
- 8 June: third baby, looks like the other two. McB now
realizes the connection must be T.
- 13 June: Newlinds withdraws T from use at hospital; McB
informs local branch of the UK manufacturer, Dis, about the malformations,
and mails his short article to The Lancet.
- 14 June: Dr Murray Moyes recommends animal studies, so
McB and Norman Frost give pregnant mice and rabbits high dose of thalidomide.
Yet all offspring are normal!
- 13 July: Lancet rejects McBride's article. Thus, women
of the world remain unwarned. ("Rejection was a stunning blow, almost
too much to have to tell my wife Patricia.")
- 4 Sept: McB delivers another baby without radius and
with short legs; the baby dies.
- mid-Sept: McB tell pharmacologist Roland Thorp at Wellcome
his theory: that deformities were produced by T competing with glutamic
acid, which is important in the metabolism of nervous tissue. Thorp disagrees,
and still disagrees after birth of a 5th baby, 26 Sept.
- 30 Sept: Lancet [tipped off by Thorp?) writes editorial:
Drugs taken by pregnant women may enter and upset the fetus. It behooves
all who care to be on the alert for it.
- mid-Nov: Dr Richmond Jeremy urges McB to send The Lancet
a "Letter to the Editor." McB drafts letters to Lancet and the
Medical Journal of Australia, but delays mailing them, as Wal Hodgetts
at Dis says: Please hold off until we withdraw T from the market.
- 27 Nov: The German manufacturer of thalidomide tells
Distillers of the UK that a doctor in Germany, W. Linz, suspects T is teratogenic
(i.e., leads to deformities).
- 28 Nov: Dis withdraws T from market worldwide. No publicity;
doctors are not told why.
- 16 Dec: McBs Letter to Editor of Lancet gets published,
half-year after he sent the article!
- THE YEAR IS 1962
- January: woman aborts twins at 16 weeks. McB sends one
of the two fetuses, in formalin, to Dis. [Distillers Biochemicals, the
makers of thalidomide] for examination.
- 19 Feb: A.D. Claireaux does the post-mortem, finds limb
deformities and duodenal atresia.
- 10 Feb: Lancet writes an editorial: "A few months
ago we discussed drugs that may be harmful to the fetus." [Oh, did
we? No drug was named in that Sept 30 editorial.]
- 25 Feb: Story finally breaks in media. Sydney headline:
Sleeping Tablet Cripples Babies.
- 18 Aug: Medical Journal of Australia recounts the facts,
without giving credit to McB. He hand-delivers to Ronald Wilton, the editor,
a letter telling the story as it happened.
- 24 Aug: Wilton replies: "Your original reporting
of your suspicions may well warrant reporting in due course. However the
present seems a particularly impolitic time to publish your letter. I think
it might well embarrass you as well as others." (Wha?)
- 28 Dec: Sydney's Daily Mirror names Dr William McBride
Australia's Man of the Year.
- Only 35 children in Australia were affected, but thousands
elsewhere. The US had never approved the drug, so had few casualties. Frances
O Kelsey of the FDA held off, allegedly on the basis of Dr Leslie Florence's
1960 article which claimed the drug causes peripheral neuropathy. The FDA
later formed a Subcommittee on Teratology, to include eminent doctors (uh-oh,
not too eminent I hope). It drew up a charter recommending, inter alia:
- "Thalidomide should be the first drug to be analyzed
and investigated beyond the experimental level. It must be understood [Read,
in my opinion: "It must never be learned"] why this drug, composed
of two non-toxic substances, is toxic to human embryos but relatively harmless
to other mammals."
- In his book "Killing the Messenger" (whose
title will be explained below), McBride states:
- "In an attempt to solve the thalidomide enigma,
Distillers Biochemicals gave large financial grants to the University of
Edinburgh and to St Mary's Hospital, London for research. The St Mary's
group, under Prof R T Williams, FRS, carried out extensive research for
many years. [One member] Sergio Fabro was to spend many years working on
the mechanism of thalidomide toxicity; later he settled at George Washington
University. In spite of this extensive research, neither group solved the
problem." (p. 89)
- That is what the Big Boys (I mean the Really Big Boys)
call a job well done, if my theory be correct. And by gosh, the later years
of McBride do show my theory to have much merit.
- THE SLOW KILLING OF THE MESSENGER, WILLIAM MCBRIDE
- The man had spunk. And if you have spunk you pay. McBride
paid in many ways. Surely one of the worst ways was having to sit in a
witness box for 36 days (possibly a record?) undergoing cross-examination
about virtually everything he had done in his life. Wasn't he Man of the
Year in 1962? Yes and, in 1972, Father of the Year. But then he 'went bad.'
- May I interject a quick lesson in how to go bad? Three
points should do it: 1. Be honest; 2. Take responsibility for what you
do; 3. Love science and scientific investigation (oops, could this be why
so many microbiologists have suicided in the last decade?). No doubt there
are other ways to go bad, but you get my drift.
- In 1973 McBride unfortunately hit upon another drug that
could harm an embryo if taken early in pregnancy -- the anti-depressant
Imipramine. He found babies in whom the drug appeared to have caused malformations.
A colleague had hinted to him that all the tricyclcic anti-depressants
were a problem. Moreover the pills were dispensed free of charge under
Australia's socialized medicine scheme.
- AUNTY AND SOME TORTURE
- It appears that McBride should not have 'gone there.'
He gave expert witness in courtrooms against the drug manufacturers. He
also questioned the safety of scopolamine. Punishment eventually came,
through a third party: In 1987, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,
a government-based TV and radio broadcaster (the ABC, or Aunty), let McBride
have it between the eyeballs.
- Hard to say when the plan for this was hatched, but it
may have been in 1977 when there was a vacancy at Foundation 41, a research
group that McBride had founded. Professor Robert Walsh, a leader in the
group, chose a candidate whom McBride did not favor, to wit: Philip Vardy.
- McBride listed Vardy as coauthor of a paper; it got unfavorably
peer-reviewed. The rabbits under study were being given scopolamine via
their drinking water, fed to them by bottles hooked to the side of the
cage at a 45-degree angle and "invariably some of the water leaked."
McBride later changed his estimate of how much water actually got imbibed.
It did not influence the outcome -- the pregnant females either bore healthy
litters or bore deformed litters.
- On returning from a trip to America, McBride was noisily
smeared by the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald.. One can only think he
had it coming to him for being such a 'naïve' whistleblower. Norman
Swan, head of ABC radio (sort of public, like BBC), played the part of
-- indeed was almost indistinguishable from -- a certain journalist in
UK well known to the autism community, one whose name rhymes with Flyin'
- To feel the Moscow show trial atmosphere, we look at
the conclusion reached by the New South Wales Complaint Unit after a four-year
trial of the accused. No patient of the good doctor had ever stepped forward
to complain to the Complaints Unit; the matter was self-initiated by the
Complaints Unit. The ostensible purpose was to get answers to the allegations
that Norman Swan and Phil Vardy had raised in the media.
- The presiding judge, Judge Wall called the accused, Dr
McBride," the classic tragic character the person of eminence in
public life whose good deeds and interest in human welfare command respect
but who is brought down by a fatal flaw in character." And the flaw
is? May I have the envelope please? The flaw is:
- "He invented the data of resorptions in the control
group of rabbits for the purpose of statistical exercise which was required
by editors of the journal to be included in the Article for publication.
When questioned for an explanation of his conduct [McBride] attempted to
justify it in a way which indicated his intellectual dishonesty."
- Note: The offending behavior had occurred eight years
before, but the Tribunal felt it "must do what Parliament has charged
the Complaints Unit to do." That is, it must decide whether a doctor
should have his medical license revoked as a protection for the public.
God knows, you wouldn't want to be asked to strip your clothes off for
a physician who had fudged the data on rabbit resorptions would you? I
know I wouldn't!
- I am omitting the fact that the Tribunal spent a year
grilling 'the stork' for his having performed too many Caesarian sections.
"Douglas Keeping [a witness] was a Scot trained in Aberdeen, a city
known for its obstetric care. He was quite definite that he would not have
treated some of my patients as I had. However he repeatedly emphasized
that there was a wide range of obstetric opinion and that my treatment
was acceptable and fell within the tram lines, as he called the confines
of acceptable management."
- That's a quote from page 197 of "Killing the Messenger,"
which by the way, is a full autobiography. It wonderfully describes how
William and his parents attended the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbor
Bridge -- a right-wing rebel rider pierced the ribbon with his sword, from
horseback, whereupon the ribbon had to be mended so the Governor could
cut it with a scissors! (Hear a lovely song on Youtube: "The Bridge
We've Been Waiting For")
- HIGHER POWERS, AND CAUSE FOR THANKS
- Perhaps it was the publicity -- the almost daily headlines
about this fraudulent scientist -- that caused Westpac Bank to foreclose
the mortgage on a building that McBride had re-designed to accommodate
his new laboratories. This was the Foundation 41, that he had established
with the 250,000 franc prize awarded to him by L'Institute de la Vie in
Paris. (Or maybe Westpac was told by a Higher Power to put the squeeze
on our hero?)
- I am pretty shameless when it comes to conspiracy theory,
so please be warned that I'm about to go to town. I think the closure of
Women's Hospital, where his nibs had much seniority, was probably done
to deprive him of his base. I think that his supporter, Jan Langman of
the University of Virginia, who died of cancer, was possibly knocked off.
(Jan was the one person who could have vouched for McBride about the rabbit
- I think it possible that the deformity of children by
thalidomide was intended I'm sure AIDS and the 1954 polio were criminal,
as I say in my new book "Prosecution for Treason." I think the
Irish potato blight of 1849 was cooked up by the House of Rothschild --
it led to the British government taking out the biggest loan in history
up to that time. And so on.
- We naturally understand the gratitude McBride must have
felt toward a handful of people (it only ever takes a handful of people)
who were driven to tell the truth. Dr Keeping, the aforementioned Aberdonian,
said to the Tribunal, "It is my genuine belief that the clinical case
against McBride is a vicious persecution and thoroughly reprehensible."
Right on, Professor! McBride also thanks Phillip Knightley, a journo,
for writing the books Foreword.
- But the grandest praise must be reserved for Royal Australian
Navy rear-admiral G J B Crabb. He found himself being set up, by a pharmaceutical
company, to spy on and discredit McBride. Crabb wasn't having any of that,
and as soon as he figured out that McBride was being targeted for a smearing,
he voluntarily made a deposition, dated August 25, 1980, and gave it to
McBride to be put in file for later use if necessary. Wow!
- "Dear Doctor [it says], A lawsuit had been held
recently in the State of Florida where a husband and wife sued a pharmaceutical
company for the malformation of their child. [A man told me] that you have
agreed to give evidence as an expert witness and I was told that, in this
case, money is no object in achieving their aim of discrediting new witnesses."
- There! Wouldn't it be great if everyone had a friend
who would stick up for him or her like that? And Crabb wasn't even a friend;
he was a complete stranger.
- Compare that to what you get, even today, from ABC (a.k.a.
Aunty) if you search "McBride, thalidomide." It's an old 2001
item, but it's the first thing that comes up on google. It starts with:
"Hello. I'm Adam Spencer from the ABC's Science Team. Tonight's Australian
Story is about a man who blew the whistle on major scientific fraud in
Australia, and in doing so, forever changed the rules and ethics of scientific
research. His name is Phil Vardy." Oh my achin' corns.
- Why is such garboodge still being displayed in 2011?
I presume it's to keep burning the message into doctors, especially new
ones: "Don't support the truth, you'll get creamed."
- And don't worry -- you will.
- Mary W Maxwell, PhD, is at credosbooks.com. She
has a special message for Veritas types: When I ordered a used copy of
Killing the Messenger, from alibris.com, the one they sent me is the
one Harvard had tossed out of its Cabot Science Library. You medical students
really do need to read this inspiring book. Do you realize you could turn
today's miserable situation around in a trice, just by showing a bit of
'tude? Also, if God gave you real intellectual gifts, please see the June
10, 2011 article by Teresa Conrick at "Age of Autism." She shows
areas of research that may intrigue you. And she will woo you into watching
"Burzinsky, the Movie," a McBride-like story on the extremely
important subject of cancer research. Come on, young medicos, the Big Boys
are counting on you to be pushovers. You're not pushovers, are you?