Review of Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients by

Book cover for Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients

I read this book as an assignment for my critical thinking class. Now I have to write an essay critiquing both the validity of the argument and its soundness. So this review is a rough collection of my thoughts on Selling Sickness.

If you are predisposed to accept Moynihan and Cassels' argument--i.e., if you already agree with their position--then this book will merely enhance your disgust for the pharmaceutical industry. However, the book is still a useful educational tool, for it outlines the insidious techniques that drug companies will use to market illness.

Prior to reading this book, I would see television commercials advising me to "talk to my doctor" about one condition or another. I ignored them--I am fortunate enough to be both a young and a healthy person free of concerns about osteoporosis or high blood pressure. I can see how people not in my happy position could be concerned, however, and the drug companies use those commercials to manipulate such concerned persons. So Selling Sickness made me think more about the marketing techniques at work.

If you're on the other side of the fence and support the initiatives of drug companies to produce medicines for new conditions, then make no mistake: Selling Sickness is an argument, not an analysis. It will seem biased. On the whole, I don't think the book is biased. Moynihan and Cassels mention counterarguments and refute them or cite sources that refute them. They could have done better, but at least they do it. Moreover, many of the points that they put forth are valid even if the drug companies are entirely altruistic (which, let's face it: they aren't--capitalism doesn't work that way). We should be informed, and you can't be informed when the advertising and "educational materials" are associated in any way with the drug companies. Even if there is no bias involved, there is still the perception.

I approve of the format of the book. Moynihan and Cassels analyze a particular condition in each chapter. Their narrow scope has a purpose, however; each condition is an example of a particular way in which the drug companies influenced the marketplace. Depression was marketed directly to doctors, whereas irritable bowel syndrome was pushed through the "tame" FDA. These concrete examples strengthen their case, make it easier for people to relate to what they are saying, and provide links to useful data for anyone interested in pursuing the evidence further.

The conclusion is probably the best part of the book. It's here that Moynihan and Cassels manage to redeem themselves for any of the other errors they make in the body of their argument. Their conclusion pulls back on the rhetoric regarding the drug companies' intentions, content to emphasize the need for drug companies to distance themselves--regardless of intent--from the defining of medical conditions and education of doctors, patients, and the public. Anything short of that will introduce the chance of bias, the possibility that the system will fail.

And hey, if you aren't as inclined toward accepting Moynihan and Cassels' argument as I am, then read the book, look at the research, and write a rebuttal. I'll read that too.

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