According to New York Times writer Andrew E. Kramer, “patients…are eager to join trials because often it is the only way to receive modern medical care.” As his article suggests, this kind of access to modern medicine “creates a pool of willing test subjects.” The Russian government is welcoming foreign investment as a way to boost the economy and has facilitated foreign drug companies’ access to its citizens. Kramer has definitely pointed out the positives of this surge in drug experimentation; “testing in Russia is a net benefit to public health, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into diagnostic work and doctor care that would not have been here otherwise.”
But the advantages are easy to see; greater willingness to try experimental drugs will enable the placement of these drugs, if effective, on the market, ensuring access to consumers and a diversified selection of medicine for us all. With that said, I feel like it is only fair to point out the ethical dilemmas of experimental drug testing. The medical field, at least in the United States, is already well aware of the dangers associated with “guinea-pigging.” Experimental drugs, before being approved for sales and market distribution, must be tested. Many drug companies are insisting that testing be done on humans.
While the resulting causal relationship is one we can accept -the more invasive or risky the procedure or drug, the higher the pay for participating in the study- I’m not so sure we should accept the fact that people are making a living this way. The best-paying studies tend to be long and restrictive. They are likely to be in-patient trials where subjects are required to remain at the research facility for days or weeks so that diets can be controlled and vitals can be monitored constantly. The problem is this: “because such studies require a fair amount of time in a research unit, the subjects are usually people who need money and have a lot of time to spare: the unemployed, college students, contract workers, ex-cons, or young people living on the margins who have decided that testing drugs is better than punching a clock…” The New Yorker
Some of these subjects become dependent on the monetary incentives or the modern medical care, as in Russia, enrolling in one study after the other and exposing themselves to harmful risks. While society at large benefits from the subjects’ aptitude for risk and willingness to participate, do we really want the emergence of a class of people shouldering this burden? If we consider who might be at risk of becoming a repeat test subject, a guinea-pig for the rest of us, a number of racial and socioeconomic issues arise. Those who can afford adequate health care have no incentive to repeatedly participate in medical experiments. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the millions of people around the world who want for a steady pay-check and health care.
SOURCE: The New York Times
PHOTOGRAPH: Olga Krevits for the New York Times