Monday, September 12, 2011

So You Wanna Be a Guinea Pig

Since the arrival of the Internet, I have subscribed to dozens of health-related newsletters, most of which fall into the alternative medicine category, because I think most pharmaceuticals only control symptoms but do nothing to address the root of the problem. I've also had some alarming reactions t
o a rather long list of drugs that doctors have pushed on me over the years, so I am fairly open-minded about exploring alternative/natural/dietary solutions to health problems.

However, I usually end up unsubscribing from most of those newsletters, when they seem to be doing nothing but pushing exotic beans, berries, and roots found only on some barely-accessible island in the middle of a jungle they had to hack through with machetes to "discover." And that, of course, also explains the high price tag on these miracle remedies. Yeah, I have an open mind, but not so open all my brains fell out.

But, for the past few months, I have been following a certain well-known, well-respected doctor on Facebook and receiving his email newsletter. I checked him out. Well, as best I could. And he seems to be the real deal. No fake or suspicious-looking string of initials behind his name, no bold claims of miracle cures, no daily ads for pricey berries showing up in my inbox masquerading as informative newsletters. It appears he has actual medical degrees and a thriving practice, and his approach to healing seems sound - making dietary changes, eliminating allergens (gluten, dairy, etc.), adding a few simple supplements like Omega-3's, Vitamin D3, alpha lipoic acid, etc., and a reasonable exercise schedule. Nothing weird, nothing exotic, nothing you envision a witch doctor stirring in a cauldron over an open fire. No exercise equipment resembling medieval torture devices.

Of course, he does sell books, DVD's and supplements on his web site, but that doesn't bother me, because he is not pushy about it, and he also offers a virtual treasure-trove of articles and published medical studies which are free. I have spent a lot of time on that site doing research on medical conditions for myself and friends and relatives. It is at the top of my go-to medical resource list.

After extensive research and reading, I have put most of the doctor's recommendations into practice, but I'm not getting the results I had hoped for. Clearly, I'm doin' it wrong. So, when I received an email from the doctor asking for participants in a beta-study of a new program he is developing, I jumped on it and immediately completed the application. Who wouldn't?

Participants in the study will get a free advance-copy of his new program, access to a members-only forum, and free access to a nutrition coaching team. I thought this might be just the Golden Opportunity to figure out, once and for all, what exactly I'm doing wrong and get it right. There was light at the end of the tunnel, and the road to health and happiness beckoned.

So, I waited patiently, praying I would be accepted as a participant. The days ticked by and my hope faded. Then, suddenly, there it was in my inbox - You have been chosen! I couldn't open that email fast enough. I had been handpicked as a participant from almost 9,500 applications. Yay! Let's get this party started!

Not surprisingly, before you can begin the program, first you have to download, sign and fax a "non-disclosure and release of liability agreement." The email went on to say "This form is designed to protect both you and me." Okay, no big deal. It's certainly understandable that the doctor would not want participants leaking the details of his program. The release of liability is also reasonable, because he is obviously not my personal doctor, and he stresses we should discuss participation in the program with our doctor and get periodic blood tests and check-ups. Okay, this is all good. My fingers were itching to sign that pesky document and get it faxed ASAP. Luckily, I spent a good many years working as a legal assistant, so I know not to sign anything until you have read every syllable, so I continued reading.

Sure enough, on page 2, the tricky bits showed up. My original intent was to condense this legal-eze into a more manageable, easy-to-read form, but I can't do it proper justice. So, here is the actual language. I have highlighted some parts, in case you just want to scan and get the gist of it.

Use of Personal Likeness
I hereby grant to the Sponsor and its successors and assigns the unlimited right and permission to use, distribute,publish, exhibit, digitize, broadcast, display, reproduce and otherwise exploit (including without, limitation, the right to sell, transfer, license, or otherwise alienate such right, in whole or in part, in its sole discretion) my name, signature, picture, likeness, voice and biographical information and any material based thereon or derived therefrom, together with any actual or fictionalized material or to refrain
from so doing, in any manner or media whatsoever (whether now known or hereafter devised) anywhere in the world in perpetuity for purposes of advertising or trade, promotion and publicity, research or otherwise.
 In furtherance of the foregoing, I hereby release all my rights to any photographs, writings, audiotapes, videotapes, DVDs, motion pictures and other forms of media or recordings of any kind whatsoever (whether now known or hereafter devised) arising from or relating to the Program. I understand that the Sponsor will be the sole owner of all rights arising out of the use of such items. I understand that I will receive no compensation from their use from any source whatsoever.
 I understand that I will have no right of approval, no claim to compensation, and no claim (including, without limitation, based upon invasion of privacy, defamation or right of publicity) arising out of any use, blurring, alteration, distortion, illusory effect, faulty reproduction, fictionalization, or use in any composite form of my name, signature, likeness, voice and biographical information.

Release and Covenant Not to Sue
I, for myself, my heirs, administrators, representatives, executors, successors and assigns, do hereby irrevocably and unconditionally release, acquit and forever discharge the Sponsor, *names deleted* including its/his officers, members, directors, equityholders, subsidiaries, affiliates, employees, agents, representatives and attorneys, as applicable, (collectively, the “Releasees”), from any and all claims, liabilities, obligations, promises, agreements, controversies, damages, remedies, actions, causes of action, suits, rights, demands, costs, losses, debts and expenses (including attorneys’ fees and costs) of any nature whatsoever, arising out of or related to my participation in the Program.
I agree not to sue, file a grievance or an arbitration or commence any other proceeding, administrative or judicial, against any Releasee in any court of law or equity, or before any administrative agency or tribunal (public or private), arising out of or related to my participation in the Program.

Now, I ask you, where are the protections for me, the participant? I see none. Zip, zero, nada, niente. Call me paranoid, but I have visions of my picture (before and after pics in as-yet unspecified clothing), name, signature (?!) and biographical information being used for sleazy and/or fraudulent purposes. Probably not intentionally, but things happen. There are about a zillion different ways my name, signature, picture, and biographical information could be used for evil, in the wrong hands, and I would have absolutely no recourse. With a few well-worded paragraphs, undoubtedly drawn up by a mule-team of attorneys, I am giving up all my privacy rights and civil rights in one fell swoop. I have to ask myself just how desperate I am, and I have come to the conclusion - not THAT desperate, Buttercup.

But I'm keeping the hot-pink sunglasses. Long story - don't ask. Besides, they match my flip-flops.

But I have to ask, just out of curiosity, would you sign that document?