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Fighting legal battles on three fronts


Bringing a lawsuit against the federal government
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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It turned out, quite by accident again but significantly, that the attorney that I had hired turned out to be a junior person who knew nothing about these issues that I was now involved with. My... my attorney happened to be friendly with another attorney who was an expert on the Privacy Act of 1974, an act that was... that in fact he was... as I say, he was involved in writing, and he, after learning about my case, he saw this as the first test for the Privacy Act of 1974. Remember, this is now the end of 1974.

And he wanted to prosecute the government for violating that Act in order to make it now a tested Act for which there was now legal evidence. And so he asked me whether he could represent me as my attorney to sue the government for violating my privacy when they failed to allow me to rebut the conclusions written by the accountant until well after the information was leaked; they finally did allow me to rebut it but by then the damage had been done. The... he furthermore said he would do this on a contingency basis, in other words, I could... I did not have to pay him until the matter was settled. If there were any funds involved, then he would... should be reimbursed for his time and effort. He also said that he would... he would hire on my behalf a law firm in San Jose, California who are experts on patent law. That was crucial, and those attorneys are also very highly skilled people; again on a contingency basis. By this... so now we brought suit against the federal government, against the National Institutes of Health – the National Institutes of Health, Education, and Welfare, which it was then called – and they of course were defended by the Justice Department, who is... which is the way our government works.

And so the Justice Department took the case to defend the government, to whom we had brought suit. They in turn brought suit against me for... for what they believed to be true, which is normal legal practice in the US. So the law... the contest was joined at the end of 1974 or beginning of 1975 perhaps and litigation began.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: San Jose, National Institutes of Health, Education and Welfare

Duration: 3 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2013

Date story went live: 14 June 2013