The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Respirators That Kill

Apr 22, 2024

CPAP machines and similar mechanical ventilators pump air for people who have difficulty breathing, especially when they are asleep. But a big company, Philips Respironics, sold more than five million machines even after learning in 2009 that they had a major and sometimes fatal problem.

Foam padding installed inside the machines to absorb mechanical noise and help people sleep had a tendency to shred into tiny toxic particles which people breathed in. But Philips executives knew the company could get away with selling them anyway.

Over the next 11 years, Philips withheld more than 3,700 complaints from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company even ran global marketing campaigns to sell more machines. The FDA racked up 385 reports of deaths and more than 105,000 complaints of respiratory problems, pneumonia, chest pain, dizziness, infections, and even cancer, caused by the foam dust—but did nothing.

In 2021, hundreds of customer lawsuits finally forced the company to recall millions of the machines and pay nearly half a billion dollars in compensation. Three years later, federal officials have now halted Philips from manufacturing more of these toxic machines.

The FDA claims to oversee nearly 900 medical device recalls every year, but this example shows basically anything goes. Many Philips customers waited almost two years for a machine with the problem fixed. The FDA’s true job is to let companies make profit.

Under capitalism, the rule is “whatever the market will bear.” With medical devices, this means unnecessary death and illness.