Healthy Skepticism
Join us to help reduce harm from misleading health information.
Increase font size   Decrease font size   Print-friendly view   Print
Register Log in

Healthy Skepticism International News

July 2005

A Planetary Loss. Senator Nelson had more than one string to his bow.

Orbibuary: Gaylord Anton Nelson

By: Barbara Seaman

Gaylord Anton Nelson Born June 4,1916 in Clear Lake,Wisconsin.

Died in Kensington, Maryland, from cardiovascular failure, July 3, 2005, age 89.

The father of Earth Day (first took place April 22, 1970), Gaylord Anton Nelson is literally a loss to the planet. He should also be remembered as one of the most astute and far-sighted critics that Big Pharma ever had. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin Democrat, served three terms in the U.S. Senate (1962-80) during which he determined to ‘expose the pharmaceutical industry to public scrutiny.’ The son of a doctor, the husband of a nurse, in 1967, soon after U.S. programs such as Medicaid and Medicare were funded, Nelson became chairman of a Senate subcommittee on Monopoly. The hearings he held would be ‘concerned with the important matters of the health and the pocketbook of American citizens’ as he announced on his opening day. Over a ten-year period of high activity, his subcommittee filled thirty Government Printing Office volumes, some as thick as 1500 pages, with incisive exposes on how the drug industry was comporting itself. He exposed the abuse of antibiotics and anti-obesity drugs, the misleading claims for cough and cold remedies and the questionable advertisements for over-the counter drugs, as well as the seduction of doctors and medical students through lavish gifts.
Depressed or Just Blue- 1974
Here, he excoriated the makers of antidepressants for setting ridiculously low standards of who should use them. At one hearing he quoted an ad for a powerful drug Triavil that suggested a list of questions to ask patients, and he answered the questions himself.: ‘“Lately have you felt…sad or unhappy? Pessimistic about the future? Disinterested in others? Disappointed in others? Disappointed with yourself? Easily tired?” I answered all of these yes. ” Have you recently had difficulty making decisions?” I changed my vote twice in a month on the same issue.’
His Conclusion: ‘I think that almost everybody is going to give a yes answer to 70 percent of these questions, so you would end up with everybody on that drug everyday.’

In 1995, Gaylord Nelson was awarded the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honour: President Clinton said, ‘As the father of Earth Day he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event, the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act.’

In WW 2, Nelson, an idealistic young Army captain and lawyer, was shipped to Okinawa as a white officer in charge of an all-Negro unit. He conducted his own battles to protest the second-class Jim Crow treatment his men received. Later he was said to be the ONLY Senator who lived entirely on his Senate salary, believing he should owe allegiance to none other than his constituents. In 1980 he was defeated in the Reagan landslide by only 59,000 votes out of more than 2.1 million. It was said that the chemical industries and Big Pharma teamed up to fill the war chest of his opponent. Nelson quit politics to choose a more retiring life as Director of the Wilderness Society.

Bumped Your Knee- or is that a Bloodclot-1970
Of all his drug hearings, the questions he raised on the birth control Pill – and whether users were being told the risks- were the most disturbing, and the most heavily covered by the media. What turned up the heat was the civil disobedience, day after day, of radical young feminists from DC Women’s Liberation, the same group that founded the women’s lib newspaper, Off Our Backs. From January through March, 1970, these women returned on every day of the hearings. They interrupted the proceedings each time, demanding to know why no patients were testifying, and why there was no Pill for men. The guards would grab them and drag them out, and the news cameras would follow.. These women became ‘the story’ and these events are recalled as ‘The Boston Tea Party of the Women’s Health Movement.’ The example set by the determined members of DC Women’s liberation, led by Alice Wolfson, ignited protests against patriarchal health care practices, all over the world. On the final day of the hearings, Dr. Charles Edwards, FDA Commissioner read his excellent 600 word information leaflet, easy to read, accurate and user friendly, entitled ‘What you should know about birth control pills.’ In its simplicity and clarity it was far superior to the information provided today. It went into effect in July 1970. During the hearings Senator Nelson refused to let the demonstrators testify. Up until that time ‘ordinary’ patients were not deemed suitable witnesses in Congressional health hearings. There was only one expert who, although interrupted while presenting evidence, went out of his way to state his solidarity with the rights to informed consent that the demonstrators demanded. That expert was the Director of the Center for Population Research at NIH, and a member of the FDA’s Advisory Board on the Pill. His name is Dr. Philip Corfman, and he became our key supportive insider within the health branches of the U.S. Government. His late wife, Eunice, was a founding member of the National Women’s Health Network.
I was there to witness it all, including Senator Bob Dole’s efforts to bribe the demonstrators to stop. I worked with Senator Nelson’s staff economist ,Ben Gordon, selecting the witnesses and preparing questions.(The hearings were based on my book.) After retiring from his Senate job, Ben Gordon went to work with Sidney Wolfe at Health Research Group. I never knew whether Gaylord Nelson really didn’t deem it suitable to have patients give witness, or whether he realized that, in letting the demonstrations continue, he got more press coverage, and thereby greater dissemination of the pervasive problems with the early-generation Pills. (Original dosages ten times higher than they are today.) In Ben Gordon’s opinion, the Senator, man of the people though he was, did truly believe that patients were not expert enough to present Senate testimony. Nelson once referred to Alice and her associates(who included such soon-to-be distinguished women as Charlotte Bunch and Marilyn Webb) as ‘viragoes.’ Yet, regarding their goals for full disclosure, for a patient’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, the young women libbers and the middle aged Senator saw exactly eye to eye.

Also, Alice Wolfson learned her civil disobedience techniques in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Nelson was not only a resister on behalf of civil rights in WW2, he was one of only 3 Senators who voted against the appropriation to expand our involvement in the Vietnam war.



HS Int News index

Page views since 15 March 2010: 10294



Our members can see and make comments on this page.


  Healthy Skepticism on RSS   Healthy Skepticism on Facebook   Healthy Skepticism on Twitter

Click to Register

(read more)

Click to Log in
for free access to more features of this website.

Forgot your username or password?

You are invited to
apply for membership
of Healthy Skepticism,
if you support our aims.

Pay a subscription

Support our work with a donation

Buy Healthy Skepticism T Shirts

If there is something you don't like, please tell us. If you like our work, please tell others. The contents of this page are the author's views and do not necessarily reflect the position of Healthy Skepticism or other members of Healthy Skepticism.

  • E-mail
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • FriendFeed
  • Google Bookmarks
  • MySpace
  • Reddit
  • Slashdot
  • StumbleUpon
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks

There is no sin in being wrong. The sin is in our unwillingness to examine our own beliefs, and in believing that our authorities cannot be wrong. Far from creating cynics, such a story is likely to foster a healthy and creative skepticism, which is something quite different from cynicism.”
- Neil Postman in The End of Education