Life in the Disclaimer Lane: A Post in Three Parts

Lynne Murray says:

Cat Protection Disclaimers

I’ll start by confessing that I’ll do anything I can for my cats, though because of my disability, I’m forced to buy food for them at a store that will not only deliver but bring everything upstairs (courier services no longer do this). But there’s another reason that I am the target audience for the latest Fancy Feast commercials–they are are packaged like a romantic comedy movie–with cats. They push my sentimental buttons, and the idea of including a cat in a wedding is charming.

However, the wedding scene made me anxious around minute 2:43. The scene appeared to need a disclaimer, like the fine print that appears in car commercials to provide a reality check for the footage of a car zooming along a rugged landscape, but in this case it would read: “Professionally trained cat on closed set; do not attempt.”

A friend pointed out that the woman in the audience has a very firm grip on the scruff of the cat’s neck. But the possibilities of the lost cat still made me anxious. I hope these people had a cat carrier handy to take little Fluffy home because most cats don’t do well at large parties and losing a cat like that could really wreck your honeymoon.

Weight-Loss Surgery Disclaimers–or the Lack Thereof

A particularly awful example of ads that beg for disclaimers are billboards advertising gastric bypass surgery. Malpractice lawsuits for the worst of the gastric bypass operations gone bad claims have become a legal specialty, in part because of the reckless and aggressive advertising. As one medical malpractice law firm points out:

Often a patient will seek out a specialty clinic or a corporate facility for such a service. Either as the result of a radio ad or passing billboard the patient is drawn to a clinic. … [T]hese are not the long-term health provider for that individual. Critical medical records can be missing. Patient conditions may go undisclosed or remain unknown until it is too late and complications have set in. It is very true that underlying physical conditions or overall state of health could make an individual ill-suited for an invasive and traumatic surgery such as a gastric bypass.

It is very easy to overlook the serious nature of any surgery when it has been commercialized across every other freeway billboard.

Even if the hard-sell gastric bypass billboards included a disclaimer it would be hard to read while driving past. A careful analysis of one of the few long-term studies of deaths from weight loss surgery summarized the sleight of hand used in selling weight loss surgery

Most insurers won’t pay for operations that have a poor safety record–once they have enough data to know that the operation isn’t safe.

But weight loss surgery is usually NOT paid for by insurers. Like plastic surgery, it is a surgery that patients pay for out of their own funds. This is one reason surgeons promote it so strongly. There are no forms for them to fill out, no limit on what they can charge, and most importantly, no evaluating the patient’s suitability for the surgery by pesky insurance review boards. All the doctor has to do is sell the patient on the operation, and the fun can begin.

So don’t let yourself become a victim of a surgeon who has found a dandy way to make himself a multi-millionaire. And don’t trust that the doctor who stands to make $25,000 for a few hours of work has your welfare in mind when he assures you that a surgery is no more dangerous than crossing the street. Remember, surgeons rarely track the outcome of their surgeries beyond six weeks. But as the Pennsylvania study suggests weight loss surgery keeps on killing for years after the initial surgery.

It might not help much, but I’d still like to see some of that information as a disclaimer on those billboards. I like the signs Debbie made for the ones she could reach.

Television Food and Drug Disclaimers

I’ve always amused horrified at the food and drug disclaimers I see on network television. Sometimes I think the disclaimers are designed to make people tune then out, because they describe such horrific symptoms that no one can believe something that could do that would be marketed, let alone prescribed by a doctor.

In a January 2010 Gawker article Richard Lawson simply quotes from the literature that accompanies the product. For example, a drug prescribed for those wishing to quit smoking, Chantix:

[T]here are a few hitches. Here, let Chantix tell you itself:

“Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using CHANTIX to help them quit smoking. Some people had these symptoms when they began taking CHANTIX, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment or after stopping CHANTIX. If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking CHANTIX and call your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems before taking CHANTIX, as these symptoms may worsen while taking CHANTIX.

“Some people can have serious skin reactions while taking CHANTIX, some of which can become life-threatening. These can include rash, swelling, redness, and peeling of the skin. Some people can have allergic reactions to CHANTIX, some of which can be life-threatening and include: swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing. If you have these symptoms or have a rash with peeling skin or blisters in your mouth, stop taking CHANTIX and get medical attention right away.”

Charming, right? Life-threatening skin rashes. Mania and rage. In the TV ads they say “may cause suicidal thoughts or actions.” And, um, isn’t a “suicidal action” sort of… it? I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself.

In a 2008 Stuff Frank Finds Funny blog post the humor is hard to separate from the actual manufacturer’s warning,

We’ve all been shocked, amazed and amused by the disclaimers we hear on commercials for prescription medications: “May cause rectal bleeding and/or sudden death. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.”

Frank also links to humorist Jeff Kay’s West Virginia Surf Report, where Kay provides actual warnings from product literature which are are both funny and horrifying. The post, like the product, is highly scatological to the point where, Frank provides a disclaimer for those considering reading the post:

“CAUTION: Not for the easily offended or chronically mature. May cause tearing of the eyes, uncontrollable laughter and personal humiliation.”

Here’s the link. All Side Effects In Layman’s Terms. Now that you’ve read the disclaimer, click at your own risk.

4 thoughts on “Life in the Disclaimer Lane: A Post in Three Parts

  1. It depends on the insurance you have whether it will pay for WLS or not. Medicaid/Medicare will pay for it, as will the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center – if you’re a veteran and qualified for care at the VAMC and meet the criteria for WLS, they’ll do it. Medicaid paid for my WLS when I was on SSI back in 1997 (and it failed, spectacularly, luckily it didn’t kill me). Since the VA will pay for it, I’m assuming that TriCare, which covers some veterans and their dependents, probably also covers it if you meet the criteria. I’ve heard of some other insurances covering WLS, but I can’t recall offhand which ones they were.

  2. I hadn’t seen that commercial until just now but as a cat lady myself, it is incredibly nerve-wracking to see that. When I live in the city, I go through great pains to make sure that my indoor cats don’t get outside near any busy streets, because I know how it feels when they do.

    Also, I’m TOTALLY on board with you in regards to the WLS billboards. On a local freeway, they are easily three or four deep in a row. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

  3. It’s worth noting that product warnings are primarily CYA for the manufacturer. “May cause” often means “we don’t think it does, but we can’t prove that it doesn’t.” See also “may contain peanuts” on food labels, which really irks me — basically they’re saying that they couldn’t be bothered to verify it one way or the other.

    It’s hard to find an over the counter drug that doesn’t tell you to consult your doctor before taking it if you’re diabetic, but there’s usually no reason for this except that the drug company wants some cover in case it gets sued. A friend once asked me why her heating pad (!) had a warning saying that diabetics shouldn’t use it. I said it was probably because if you have diabetic neuropathy there’s a risk of burning yourself without realizing it. Of course, not all diabetics have neuropathy, but it’s easier for the manufacturer to issue a blanket warning.

    As a result, it’s hard to tell which warnings you really need to pay attention to; they all seem pro forma, and people get used to the idea that they can ignore them. Not good.

  4. Vesta44, good point. I’m so sorry that you had to endure the WLS and “spectacular” bad results and I hope that you are feeling better now that you have survived them. I also hope this means that the organizations/insurers covering these procedure are keeping statistics of all results including those spectacular failures.

    Jen, I was also horrified watching the commercial that someone would try this and lose their beloved pet. I hope that doesn’t happen. Much as I love the idea of sharing important occasions with cats–a little special treat or cuddle time at home after the humans returned from the party would probably please the cat better (and I live to please the cats).

    Good point, Janet, about the high noise level of disclaimers causing people to ignore them. The I hear something like “May cause sudden death–ask your doctor if it’s for you…” and I assume the advertisers expect the disclaimer to be tuned out. But WLS doesn’t even have warnings for the would-be purchaser to tune out. I think they’re cruising for lawsuits and I hope they get them.

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