With a strong core case study, Netflix Original documentary The Bleeding Edge gives an insight into the medical device industry using accounts from victims and medical professionals.
The Bleeding Edge is somewhat a human tragedy articulated by Kirby Dick. The Netflix documentary has no balanced approach, clearly blaming the industry, with systematic failures resulting in such traumatic incompetence. It is easy to be cynical, forcing me to always take a well-measured step back when I watch something that tackles this type of subject. However, I recently did a trailer reaction to the Netflix documentary prior to its air date and I was moved by the responses I received in the comments resulting in my stance to take the victim’s voices more seriously. The Bleeding Edge nowhere near embodies the perfectly-constructed documentary feature, but the messages are abundantly clear.
The Bleeding Edge opens up with a message about innovation, the future of medical care and putting patients first. It is strange because in the United Kingdom we have the NHS (National Health Service), that is free to use, giving us healthcare whenever needed. However, over the years, the lack of investment and strict budgets have forced the hands of commissioners to innovate less. Our practices are industry-standard, but I would argue that our medical technology is considerably behind some countries. Interestingly, The Bleeding Edge demonstrates with various case studies that newer is not necessarily better.
The Netflix documentary provides haunting accounts of people, mostly women, who have been let down by medical standards; in this case, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Angie Firmalino wanted birth control and in the trusted hands of her medical professionals, they recommended the infamous Essure, which is coil-shaped and blocks the fallopian tube, so by definition birth control is achieved. This resulted in running fevers, continuous bleeding and severe, constant headaches for years. Others also come forward in this documentary – Tammy Jackson was recommended a vaginal mesh device to hold her organs in place which caused undesirable effects, with doctors having zero training in how to remove it; this unforgivable oversight ruined her sex life and spurred on countless operations on her body. The Bleeding Edge presents an industry of untested medical devices, causing bodily harm and deaths, and it does so with some strong case studies.
However, without professionals backing these claims, the documentary would have achieved little. Usefully, the second half of the feature does give a scientific basis to a damning assessment to the medical device industry in the USA. Former FDA commissioners enhance the documentary’s evidence, describing to the viewers the PMA (Pre-Market Approval) framework which has caused many medical devices to be made readily available to medical professionals. The Bleeding Edge manages to grab the services of Dr. Stephen Tower, a medical professional who has suffered at the hands of an untested medical device personally, sending him into a state of psychological confusion due to a metal-on-metal hip replacement. The Bleeding Edge cries out for this to be a crisis, and you are left with little answers as to how this will be properly brought into law in the future. It is difficult to comprehend how the system has become so broken.
In the end, The Bleeding Edge gives you the truth of the industry; lobbyists, ex-FDA workers working on medical company boards, doctors favouring those who give them most money – in essence, an entire pyramid system that caters to money-making, rather than truly giving patients medical devices that will positively change their wellbeing. The Bleeding Edge gives a weighty argument that this industry needs to do better by those leading it, rather than bringing in people who only care about their bottom line.
The Bleeding Edge is a strong documentary, which probably required another equally strong case study like Essure; however, the voices of victims are clearly heard, and it is transparent that the process needs to change, for the benefit and health of the patients, not the bank accounts.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.