On September 14th 1989, Joseph Wesbecker, a troubled former employee, returned to the Standard Gravure plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and copious amounts of ammunition, he spent half an hour shooting twenty fellow employees, before killing himself. Survivors of the shooting and the victims’ families sued Eli Lilly and Company for compensation: Wesbecker had been taking one of Lilly’s drugs, the controversial Prozac. Had Prozac caused the deaths? When the trial began in 1994 the drug accounted for a significant part of Lilly’s sales, and the pharmaceutical company wanted its safety to be endorsed by jury verdict.
The trial and its complex issues drew worldwide attention. The London Sunday Times Magazine sent John Cornwell, prize winning journalist and senior research fellow at Cambridge University to cover the case. THE POWER TO HARM, which grew out of Cornwell’s coverage, describes the proceedings and also takes us far from Louisville to laboratories and into the offices where the very definition of human identity was being debated.