ANOTHER EMBARRASSMENT AT 1515

Another Embarrassment at
1515

By

Leonard Zwelling

         I love Law and Order. I could watch it all day long. Sure,
most of the episodes have exactly the same rhythm. Sure, Jack McCoy is a
sanctimonious liberal pain in the butt whose assistant is always a beautiful
woman. Sure, the DAs consist of rotating pillars of righteous wisdom, even when
Jack McCoy himself becomes the DA. Who cares?

There
has never been a better way to drift off to sleep than Law and Order and it
gave a whole lot of fine Broadway actors work during the day when all the other
TV dramas moved to LA. When I read the credits for the actors in a Playbill on
Broadway, most of the time, one or more of the leads and supporting players
have appeared on L and O or one of its spin-offs, none of which matched the
original (although SVU was close).

         Too bad L and O is off the air now for what is transpiring
in a downtown Houston court room would make a great episode of “Law and Order
TMC” no matter how the real trial verdict comes out.

         It’s not bad enough that MD Anderson has had two consecutive
Presidents make the news for alleged business shenanigans. The FDA has visited
at least twice of which I am aware to investigate clinical research behavior
that was not up to federal code. And, of course, we have had many inquiries
into research misconduct, conflicts of interest, and the less than admirable,
but still not illegal, sins of adultery that have ended some careers and
created some marriages. Yes, MD Anderson certainly has kept up with the rest of
academic medicine in the human failings department. (This is not one of
the criteria US News and World Report uses to evaluate cancer centers.)

         But this latest flap may have jumped the shark. The Houston
Chronicle has reported that jury selection has been completed and the estimated
two week trial started of Dr. Ana-Maria Gonzalez Angulo.

(http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Jury-selection-to-begin-in-doctor-s-poisoning-5746701.phpG).
AND

(http://www.chron.com/default/article/Trial-opens-in-poisoned-doctor-case-5756244.php)

She
is an MD Anderson medical breast oncologist of some note, who has been accused
of poisoning her “casual lover,” Dr. George Blumenschein by spiking his coffee
with ethylene glycol. It almost killed him, but he survived due to some great
medical care on the MD Anderson ICU. My understanding from several sources is
that Dr. Gonzalez Angulo is still a salaried member of the MD Anderson faculty
though working from home. 

         To show that the plot twist is not always at the end of L
and O, the seating of the Houston jury was delayed a week, because audio tapes
have surfaced that may implicate the accused in planning the act for which she
is on trial as well as putatively other illegal acts. No details are yet
available with regard to the source of the tape recordings or how they came to
the awareness of the prosecution. Its admissibility will undoubtedly be
challenged by the defense and a judge will have to weigh its probative vs.
exculpatory (or incriminating) value (see I watch L and O way too much, but
probably got that all wrong).

         As if MD Anderson hasn’t had enough bad headline news. This
began in 2001 with ImClone and Enron. This included the news that the
then-Anderson president was on the Enron board followed by a front page article
in the Washington Post about 195 human subjects at Anderson receiving the
ImClone drug Erbitux without anyone having disclosed to these cancer patients
that the same MD Anderson president could gain personally and substantially
from their participation in the trial. This was followed by the large lay-offs
in 2008-9 attributed to Hurricane Ike but most probably due to a downturn in
the stock market putting pressure on the institution’s bottom line through a
shrinkage in non-operating revenue. And since Dr. DePinho’s arrival more
foolish behavior has been tolerated than would be of any child I know without
at least a time out. This all has solidified an atmosphere of questionable
integrity (one of the core values) pervading the halls of the MD Anderson and
particularly the Executive Suite.

         The big question is why?

I
think most would say that people are people and they do good and bad things. Sometimes
what makes someone good–single-mindedness, determination, and a win at any
cost mentality–can make them bad as well. Yet, a cancer center is no place for
the qualities that make a good Navy SEAL—at least not yet.

I
think all of us with children understand the curious nature of people and their
occasional bad judgment. But these misdeeds were not those of children and are
not simply bad judgment. These were highly educated adults acting as if the
world revolves around them and no matter what they do they will never be held
accountable.  (Making Hubris History?)

It
is my hypothesis that this is not people being people as usual but an
institutionalized tolerance of bad behavior and the application of moral
relativism based on the bad actor’s position on the org chart (higher is better
as more misbehavior is tolerated). This is most true at the highest of levels of
Anderson with no accountability what so ever that anyone can demonstrate. I
believe that it began in 2001 and has never reversed course. It has permeated
all levels of leadership at Anderson and will continue to burrow into the soul and
culture of a great institution unless there is a rapid 180-degree reversal in
what is acceptable behavior. (I would love to think the new UT Chancellor, who was
a real Navy SEAL, might be the spark for local justice on Holcombe, but it’s a
big system with lots of inertia and resistance to change.)

No
matter what happens at the trial downtown, someone certainly tried to poison
one of the faculty members. If it is not the accused, then who did it and why?

Frankly,
I liked it better when our leaders were just saying and doing less than
flattering things on television or in boardrooms to line their own pockets than
when the faculty members are being accused of harming one another.

Nonetheless
this does provide a really amazing plot for Law and Order.

Soon,
we will be able to put just below Making Cancer History on the Faculty page of
the MD Anderson web site, “and these are their stories.”

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