Bad Blood

Maybe you remember hearing about Elizabeth Holmes, the 19-year-old college dropout whose startup, Theranos, was once valued at $9 billion. She was supposed to be the “Female Steve Jobs,” and she was famously treated like a celebrity because her Silicon Valley company promised to revolutionize health care, saving consumers billions and even saving lives.

It was a remarkable story—and, as it turns out, for all the wrong reasons. No, it wasn’t a story about American entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and opportunity, but about greed, deception, and fraud. How could something that seemed so hopeful, so positive, and so encouraging have gone so bad so quickly?


Enter the “Edison”

Born in 1984 to a wealthy and well-connected family, Holmes dropped out of Stanford in 2003 and, using the money set in trust for her college tuition, started her own company—eventually named Theranos, from the words “therapy” and “diagnosis.” 

The idea behind the new venture was thrilling. Today, complete blood work typically requires numerous needles and bloodletting, and then the samples need to be sent to one or more faraway labs for analysis. The procedure is sometimes painful, typically time-consuming, and always expensive.

Enter Holmes, who claimed that her company had created a device, the Edison (named after famous inventor Thomas Edison), that could do all this work on the (relative) cheap. The Edison, a supposed portable mini-lab about the size of a home-computer printer, would run all these same tests with just a few drops of blood drawn through a single, mostly painless pinprick. A few hours later, it would send the results wirelessly to doctors and hospitals.


Celebrity Status

With such promises, Holmes became an instant celebrity—paraded, wined, and dined. And rich. Forbes magazine called her “‘the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire,” with a personal wealth estimated at $4.5 billion. 

Investors and big names flocked to her side, including former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, as well as media moguls Larry Ellison and Rupert Murdoch. These were just a smattering of the “one-percenters” who lauded the young lady. In 2015, she was invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where she appeared alongside Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.

In 2015, the Business Insider listed its “Silicon Valley 100, our annual list of the people who matter most in Silicon Valley.” Right there with Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Tim Cook was Holmes. She was listed as number one.

By all accounts, through Holmes’ determined vision, the world was on the cusp of a medical revolution.


Fraud and Deceit

Only it was all a fraud.

The Edison did not work. It never worked. It never even came close to working, despite all the investment dollars and hype spilled into it.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou, the reporter who first broke the story, recounts the extraordinary story in detail. Early on, according to Carreyrou, there were indeed skeptics who doubted that one machine could do all that Holmes claimed it could. But against such doubters, Holmes and her boyfriend, ‘Sunny’ Balwani, company president and COO, employed vicious, heavy-handed tactics to suppress their voices, especially against employees who worked on the technology and witnessed firsthand the deceptions meant to cover up the Edison’s failures. 

Among the many accusations was that many test results attributed to the Edison were, in fact, done using standard testing equipment—because the Edison could not deliver. Referring to his article in the Wall Street Journal (“A Prized Startup’s Struggles,” October 15, 2015), Carreyrou writes, “In addition to revealing that Theranos ran all but a small fraction of its tests on conventional machines and laying bare its proficiency-testing shenanigans and its dilution of finger-stick samples, it raised serious questions about the accuracy of its own devices.” 

Eventually, Theranos was forced to close its doors, lawsuits by the defrauded followed, and in 2018 Holmes and Balwani were charged federally with fraud. After numerous delays, Holmes went to trial in August 2021, during which she portrayed herself as an innocent businesswoman abused and bullied by Balwani (who now awaits his own trial). The jury didn’t buy her defense and convicted her on four of eleven charges, and she now faces up to 20 years in prison and millions in fines.


Judged and Condemned

How could something so good have gone so bad? Scripture teaches that all of us, as humans, have a nature that is fallen—with minds and hearts corrupted and prone to evil. The apostle Paul, writing about two thousand years ago, taught, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10); he then listed a litany of evils that people commit regularly. The story of Holmes is a rather big and dramatic example of this unfortunate reality. 

For now, Holmes has been judged and condemned by a court of law. But Paul also warns us, “You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Unless we are surrendered in faith and obedience to God, who knows what any one of us is capable of doing? Who hasn’t been shocked by the potential evils in our own hearts? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). That’s not just Holmes’ heart, but all of our hearts!

The good news is that despite our fallen natures, God loves humanity so much that Jesus came down and died to forgive and restore righteousness in us. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That “us” includes Elizabeth Holmes. 

Yes—she will have to deal with the legal consequences of her actions in this world, but nothing she did is beyond the redemption found in Jesus. To understand more about the hope that is hers and yours, you can read Pastor Doug’s book Assurance: Justification Made Simple.

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.
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