Dallas Buyers Club is a shockingly well done movie. I would put it on par with Philadelphia staring Tom Hanks. Dallas Buyers Club is also incredibly timely as the news is littered with drug company CEOs dramatically increasing drug prices while manipulating clinical trials to get drugs approved.
If you pay attention you get to see all of that here. AZT was a chemotherapy drug and the manufacturer was both paying the hospital and coercing the trial. It also took great pains to point out a nasty flaw in our approval process, the lengthy double blind where people get placebos for months or years on end while “science” flails around trying to find something which works and the correct dosage.
AIDS Back Story
Kids today need to know the level of stigma which was associated with AIDS. It was a death sentence. It was a gay only disease. Just about every kind of slur you could imagine and then some was leveled at the HIV positive community. What made HIV so insidious and people drop to their basest of forms were the following:
- A multi-year incubation period
- No definitive test
- No realistic treatment
I graduated high school about the time the AIDS epidemic began in America. About the time I was getting done with college Rock Hudson became its first widely known celebrity victim. There were 52 kids in my high school graduation class. Most of us had known each other since Kindergarten. Not all that long after Rock Hudson one of our number fell to that disease but a different story had to be put about.
You kids today live in a post “Will & Grace” world. While you will hear the LGBT (and whatever letters I missed) community talk about hardships today, they are nothing compared with the time when AIDS and AZT became terms everyone knew.
The Wasting Disease
Dallas Buyers Club covers the wasting disease and covers it well. The actors must have done severe damage to their bodies becoming that emaciated. You can’t fake functioning arms which look like the arms of Holocaust victims. Some countries/cultures call AIDS “The Wasting Disease” because a person wastes away in a short span of time.
Today you have natural supplement companies occupying entire isles at supermarkets and just about everyone has heard of GNC. This was not the case in the 1980s. The people going through the clinical trials were going to other countries to purchase drugs and supplements because they could not be obtained in America. Doctors which no longer had medical licenses were advising them on how best to counteract the nasty side effects of the drug because doctors here were either too afraid to treat them or, in many cases, did not know.
Watch this movie. It does a fine job of documenting an ugly part of American history. The only fault I could point out was they didn’t really point out the issue with death certificates. We don’t know just how many people have actually died from AIDS because during the early years some other cause was always put on the certificate. AIDS weakened the immune system so all kinds of bizarre ailments inflicted its victims. Any one of which could be listed as the cause of death.
As I said, there was no blood test which would definitively prove a person was HIV positive. The first test released didn’t test for the disease, it tested for a certain antibody created by the spleen when a person had full blown AIDS. This test was only slightly accurate. If a person had their spleen removed or damaged or they had not progressed to full blown AIDS they could be HIV positive and the test would come back negative.
Every Millenial needs to watch this movie. Why? Because in your lifetimes you will relive this history. There will be some other deadly disease with a lengthy incubation period that people know little about. It will get associated with one or more “politically unacceptable” behaviors and all of the same stigmas and bigotries will surface again.
The disease will once again be blood born and countless people will contract it simply from having gone to the hospital or receiving some blood based product like Ryan White. You need to not make the same mistakes we did. It has been over 20 years and we haven’t figured out how to defeat AIDS, only stall it. In large part that failure is due to the stigma, portrayed well in this movie. Because of that stigma, which still exists today, just not as openly, we never brought the full force of American science and research funding to bear on the disease, unlike we did for Ebola.