Johnson & Johnson Fails to Protect Employment Rights of Breast Cancer Victims

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HLI
A resolution voted on today by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) shareholders asked JNJ not to discriminate against a job applicant because of her health status. The resolution, which was opposed by JNJ, was voted down by shareholders.

Offered by Human Life International, the resolution was prompted, in part, by the numerous breast cancer survivors who have gone public with their travails to better educate woman about breast cancer and its prevention. In addition to their physical concerns, these courageous women face possible job discrimination because of potential medical liabilities they may pose to future employers. The resolution asks JNJ not to discriminate against these women or others, like AIDS victims, because of their health status. In a letter to shareholders, JNJ recommended shareholders vote against this policy because “The Board (of JNJ) does not believe it is necessary….”

In addition, the resolution highlighted the connection between breast cancer and oral contraceptives by citing a meta-analysis study by Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, which showed 21 out of 23 studies indicated a link between breast cancer and oral contraceptive use. The International Agency on Cancer Research, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified hormonal contraceptives in 2005 as a group one carcinogen, along with asbestos and radium. JNJ sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oral contraceptives every year. Dr. Kahlenborn gave a short presentation:
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Representing Human Life International’s stockholder resolution

Annual Stockholder’s Meeting, Johnson and Johnson

April 28, 2011

Trenton, NJ

Good Morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address all of you today. Each year, over 200,000 women develop invasive breast cancer in the United States. In regard to Johnson and Johnson, it is good to affirm a resolution that promises not to discriminate against hiring women who have developed breast cancer; but it is not enough. This company has a unique opportunity to be a leader against the fight against breast cancer by working to prevent it.

In October, 2006, four researchers, including myself, published a meta-analysis in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings on the subject of oral contraceptives and pre-menopausal breast cancer (1). After reviewing all of the world’s data, we found that 21 out of 23 studies showed an increased risk of developing invasive premenopausal breast cancer if women took oral contraceptives prior to the birth of their first child, which is when most women take them. These women incurred a 44% increased risk, which rose to 52% if they took them for at least 4 years prior to the birth of their first child. Both of these results were significant at the 99% confidence interval-the highest standard used in research. In addition we noted that the World Health Organization had recently classified oral contraceptives as a Group I carcinogen-the most dangerous type known to humankind (2).

Recently our study was quoted in the Frontiers of Medicine in China (3) whose researchers performed their own meta-analysis and found that women who took oral contraceptives sustained a 112% increased risk in developing breast cancer. In addition, a recent collaborative study co-authored by investigators from the National Cancer Institute, the Hutchinson Cancer Center and the University of Washington cited our meta-analysis and also noted significant breast cancer risk with oral contraceptives (4).

In conclusion, I note that there are three good reasons for you to consider the alternative of ceasing all hormonal contraceptive sales while specifically and publicly citing the breast cancer risk:

1) Limitation of bad press. Instead of picking up Bloomberg Businessweek and cringing you would be a step ahead of the curve and your competitors and would be seen as a leader. People want to see Johnson and Johnson as a company that makes safe products like your shampoo-not products that are becoming controversial, such as oral contraceptives.

2) Limitation of future lawsuits: Suits against the thrombotic potential of oral contraceptives are increasing and the breast cancer link may well be the next frontier.

3) It is the right thing to do. I ask the executives and board members of Johnson and Johnson to simply ask yourselves one question: knowing what you know today, would you be comfortable if your wife or daughter were to take Johnson and Johnson’s hormonal contraceptive pills?

Thank you for your time and attention. I will be available for questions and this presentation and its sources will be posted on the Human Life International website. I have a couple of extra copies for those interested here.

Chris Kahlenborn, MD

Sources:

1) Mayo Clin Proc. 2006;1290-1302.

2) IARC Monographs. July 29, 2005.

3) Front. Med China. 2009; 452-458.

4) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009; 1157-66.

unquote

“I took birth control for years, and I have to wonder if it caused my breast cancer. I also have a niece who was on birth control and at 19 had a stroke due to blood clotting aggravated by the pill,” said Bonnie Borel-Donohue, a breast cancer survivor, in response to the vote. “Having profited for years from the sale of carcinogenic and stroke-provoking birth control products, JNJ should see that this resolution is but the smallest step it could have taken to rectify the injustices and harms suffered by unsuspecting users/victims of their birth control products.”

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