This month, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) published a news item about a bizarre sequel to this case. Here is the background,
Dr. Olivieri [tried] to enforce an agreement she entered into with Apotex in November of 2004 in settlement of defamation claims by both parties.
On Friday, November 28, 2008, after a lengthy course of litigation, Justice George Strathy of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered that Apotex must perform all the terms of the settlement agreement. Those terms include the payment to Dr. Olivieri by Apotex of $800,000, a figure first made public by Justice Strathy in his order.
The settlement agreement contained a term that Dr. Olivieri would not subsequently 'disparage' Apotex or the drug deferiprone.
Now here is the amazing part,
Most recently, Apotex has made its claims of “disparagement” against Dr. Olivieri in a Superior Court action commenced on November 4, 2008. Justice Strathy’s order does not affect the new Apotex action. In its action Apotex could claim from Dr. Olivieri the full amount of $800,000 required to be paid to her under the settlement agreement.
In its statement of claim Apotex takes a very broad view of what constitutes actionable 'disparagement' by Dr. Olivieri. Apotex claims that actionable 'disparagement' includes situations in which Dr. Olivieri is said to have 'acquiesced or consented' to alleged 'disparagement' by others. Instances of 'disparagement' alleged by Apotex include:
* A Wikipedia internet description of Dr. Olivieri, written by a person other than Dr. Olivieri;
* An opinion column referring to Dr. Olivieri in The Globe and Mail written by a Globe columnist, not Dr. Olivieri, which does not contain any statement about Apotex attributed to Dr. Olivieri;
* A motion picture company’s description of a potential movie about Dr. Olivieri;
* A complaint to a newspaper by Dr. Olivieri that statements made in an article referring to her were incorrect.
In its claim Apotex also makes many allegations of 'disparagement' that appear to be based solely on Dr. Olivieri’s participation or attendance at conferences on the relationship between universities and the pharmaceutical industry at large, academic freedom, scientific research and conflict of interest.
So according to Apotex, physicians and medical academics are liable for what is said or written about them by third parties, even if the physicians and academics had nothing to do with what the third parties wrote or said.
So, by the way, by extension from the arguments made by Apotex, by writing this blog post, I have somehow caused Dr Olivieri to further disparage Apotex.
This is egregious nonsense. The filing of the lawsuit by Apotex, which Dr Olivieri will presumably have to go to considerable expense to defend, is a threat to the academic freedom and free speech of all in academia, but particularly to medical academics, and by extension, also is a threat to the free speech of all physicians. This sort of litigation further chills the atmosphere in free speech in health care, a sphere in which criticism of powerful organizations and their powerful leaders is already scarce and threatened.
This should be a wake up call for those physicians and medical academics who maintain a consistently rosy view who persistently believe that those nice people at the top of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies are always on the side of righteousness and good.
Hat tip to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Integrity in Science Watch here.
See additional comments by Dr Howard Brody on the Hooked: Ethics, Medicine and Pharma blog.