Saturday, March 18, 2006

Too Poor To Be Sick

As my inaugural attempt at writing a blog, I thought that I would have trouble picking an IMPORTANT topic. Not a worry. The pharmaceutical industry was happy to oblige. The new Medicare part D was not confusing enough and the benefits of the various offered plans were not elusive enough. Now Merck has sold its rights to two cancer drugs, Mustargen and Cosmegen, to other companies and the price of the drugs has escalated exponentially – in one instance from $77.50 for a 2 week supply to $548.01 for the same amount (The New York Times, 3/12/06.) Even without a sale, the same article points out that Genetech will double the cost of its colon cancer drug, Avastin, so that the price tag will be about $100,000.

At these rates only the super rich can afford to get sick. Should the rest of us then fold our tents and simply prepare to suffer and or die? As an attorney, I understand clearly that corporations are in the business of making money and that their loyalties lie with their shareholders. But patients are not consumers and life saving or life restoring drugs are not commodities like cars. While many of us require a car in order to get to and from work or even to do our work, the car, as long as it runs and is safe, can be second hand, old, dented, whatever. That does not apply to drugs, especially drugs that can make the difference between life and death, or working or not working, or comfort or pain. It seems to me patently unethical to put the profit motive ahead of the human purpose. But so long as we allow industry to change the language to “consumer” and “product,” then the argument for more patient friendly approaches will fall on dead ears.

Corporations may not have a heart and a soul but as ethicists we must begin to change the vocabulary and dialogue to bring about affordable drugs along with accessible health care.

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