Women across America are dying of ovarian cancer, a truly terrible disease. For decades, the scientific community has identified asbestos as a cancer-causing agent and recognized the association of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder and cancer.
But while evoking soothing images as the family-owned “baby company,” the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson misled millions of women about the safety of its talc-based products.
Despite evidence of corporate conspiracy to obscure the existence of asbestos in its powder, shown in the company’s memos, emails and testimony, Johnson & Johnson is seeking protection through a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The pharmaceutical giant is hoping to overturn the unanimous collective conclusions and wisdom of a Missouri trial court jury, a Missouri appellate court and the Missouri Supreme Court. While Johnson & Johnson continues to defend the safety of its talc products, internal documents clearly show the company’s knowledge of asbestos contamination and its failure to remove asbestos fibers from its talcum powder.
J&J’s attenuated and misleading legal arguments to the court fail to obscure the company’s decadeslong dishonesty and violation of its responsibility to the women of America and the world. This shameful disregard for the lives of women and the scientific evidence of the relationship between the long-term use of the company’s talcum products and ovarian cancer must not be ignored.
This insidious disease is the fifth leading cause of death among wives, mothers and daughters. It is likely we all know someone affected by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can easily be mistaken for more common and benign conditions. This means that, all too often, the diagnosis comes too late for successful treatment and recovery. That was the unfortunate reality for several of the victims in the original trial that took place in St. Louis in 2018.
By all reports, the jury closely followed six weeks of testimony from J&J corporate representatives as well as experts in epidemiology, oncology, mineralogy and other disciplines. Jurors endured five hours of instructions by the court and more hours of careful deliberation. Post-trial comments by jurors revealed their thoughtfulness, thoroughness and care in considering the verdict and the damage awards.
Two years later, the Missouri Court of Appeals adjusted those awards by eliminating defendants with inadequate jurisdictional ties to Missouri. However, the court refused to set aside the awards to Missouri defendants. It affirmed the essential evidentiary findings of the trial court’s verdict.
The panel of appellate judges unanimously declared that Johnson & Johnson engaged in years of cover-ups and denials about the dangers of talc use. It said J&J hid the potential contamination of its powder products with asbestos “because of an evil motive or reckless indifference.”
“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, Defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their Products caused ovarian cancer,” the court wrote. “We find there was significant reprehensibility in Defendants’ conduct.”
It is difficult to imagine a harsher assessment by a conservative-leaning appellate court against the behavior of one of the paragons of American industry.
Testimony at numerous other trials taking place across America has also shown the cosmetic industry’s aggressive efforts to avoid discovery of asbestos in products containing talc. The industry chose to ignore available and precise testing technology in favor of antiquated and less sensitive testing methods. See no evil, speak no evil appears to be the industry’s mantra.
The evidence at these trials clearly revealed J&J’s attempts to denigrate regulatory warnings from international agencies. It attempted to discredit the dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies published in the past 40 years confirming the deadly association between talc use and cancer.
Ultimately, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to consider a further hearing at J&J’s request. The laws of our state were followed, and the evidence was clear. Now the company is making one last-ditch effort to disregard that evidence and impose federal court intrusion on the civil courts of a sovereign, independent state.
Women should not die because of corporate indifference.
The egregious behavior by Johnson & Johnson weighs so heavily in this case it should prompt our highest court to dismiss any consideration of interference. This case pleads for the affirmation of simple justice for women. Johnson & Johnson must not be allowed to escape its responsibility.
John Ashcroft, counsel for the victim respondents in Johnson & Johnson v. Ingham et al, is the former governor of Missouri and served as U.S. senator for the state from 1995 to 2001. He served as U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2005. Janet Ashcroft is an attorney, professor, textbook author and mother of three children.