Bioethicist Complains that the Rich Are Getting Breakthrough Cancer Treatments First

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By 2020?

Over at the New York Times, superb science journalist Gina Kolata is reporting a wonderful three-part series, Genetic Gamble, on how whole genome sequencing is dramatically personalizing cancer treatments with remarkable results. In the first part that ran on Sunday, Kolata detailed the story of Dr. Lukas Wartman who became ill with a hard-to-treat form of leukemia in his 20s. A team of his colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis decided to sequence all the genes in both his normal cells and his cancer cells and compare them. They hoped that the sequencing would reveal what had gone wrong and suggest ways to treat his cancer. As Kolata reports:

….they found a culprit — a normal gene that was in overdrive, churning out huge amounts of a protein that appeared to be spurring the cancer's growth.

Even better, there was a promising new drug that might shut down the malfunctioning gene — a drug that had been tested and approved only for advanced kidney cancer. Dr. Wartman became the first person ever to take it for leukemia.

And now, against all odds, his cancer is in remission and has been since last fall.

Hooray! Well, except of course for some bioethicists. As the Times reports:

Ethicists ask whether those with money and connections should have options far out of reach for most patients before such treatments become a normal part of medicine. And will people of more limited means be tempted to bankrupt their families in pursuit of a cure at the far edges?

"If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that rich people can even access it?" asked Wylie Burke, professor and chairwoman of the department of bioethics at the University of Washington.

That's the all-too-often knee jerk response from professional bioethicists—if we all can't have the treatment then none of us should have the treatment. We should all be equal in disease, disability, and death. However, Wylie does have a glimmer of a thought about why that might be wrong:

The saving grace, [Burke] said, is that the method will become available to all if it works.

Well, yes. Let's let the rich be guinea pigs for new biotech treatments for us all.

In any case, I highly recommend reading the whole series by Kolata, In Treatment for Leukemia, Glimpses of the Future from Sunday and today's A New Treatment's Tantalizing Promise Brings Heartbreaking Ups and Downs. The third part, A Game Changer in Revealing Cancer's Prognosis, which details a precise new genetic test that can tell a patient if his or her form of melanoma is likely to be curable or not, is now up on the Times' website.

NEXT: Ira Stoll on Why ObamaCare Is, in Fact, the Largest Tax Increase in History

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  1. What is a “bioethicist”? Sounds like ivory tower bs.

    1. The question of bioethics isn’t “bs”. The 20th Century’s long list of medically-related crimes against humanity from the early eugenics movement to the Nazi experimentation programs seem to indicate that “decency” isn’t necessarily an innate quality in most human beings.

      1. Wait…I should say it isn’t “necessarily” bs. The above story would be indicative of the problematic trends in the bioethics circles.

      2. Well, it didn’t take any bioethicist to determine that Nazi medical experiments were wrong.

        1. Wrong!

        2. Well, there were medical advances brought about because of their horrific research. Maybe the Jews were just early adopters?

        3. Eugenics, on the other hand, still has to be explained slowly to some people.

          1. Of course, I’m referring to the compulsory theories generally associated with people like Harry H. Laughlin.

          2. Caleb Turberville|7.9.12 @ 5:40PM|#
            Eugenics, on the other hand, still has to be explained slowly to some people.

            The science of Eugene is indeed complex.

      3. You don’t need a professional bioethicist to tell you what the Nazis did was wrong.

        1. Unless you’re a Nazi. Then you might want that second opinion.

      4. The 20th Century’s long list of medically-related crimes against humanity from the early eugenics movement to the Nazi experimentation programs seem to indicate that “decency” isn’t necessarily an innate quality in most human beings.

        I would argue that those things demonstrate that decency isn’t an innate quality in those who hold power, not necessarily all of humanity. Many of the Nazi programs were kept secret from the general population until after the war. Eugenics was opposed by all but the most ardent progressives.

        We don’t have a humanity problem, but a people with power problem.

    2. Sort of like a school bus monitor but harder to pick on to their face.

    3. Libertarius|7.9.12 @ 4:48PM|#
      What is a “bioethicist”? Sounds like ivory tower bs

      You’re telling me! I had a perfectly good organ-farming–export operation running in partnership with Congolese orphanages, and now I have to pay retail!?? You know how hard it is to *haggle* for a decent liver?? Supply levels and quality control is a complete nightmare. If things get any worse, I’m probably going to have to go back to working the prison-shivving circuit. At least *they’re* semi-reliable, despite nicking the goods from time to time.

  2. “If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that rich people can even access it?” asked Wylie Burke, professor and chairwoman of the department of bioethics at the University of Washington

    Becasue they bear the risks if it doesn’t work out?!?

    I am starting to suspect that most bioethicists are in their profession because their gravitas and philosophical ability are too low to qualify them to become reality TV stars.

  3. Fuck these people.

    1. That pretty much sums up every conversation I’ve had today.

  4. You know, those wealthy assholes were also the first to get cell phones way back when they were the only ones that could afford them. My outrage boner was at full attention even then.

      1. Who wanted that crap? It was like car phones–what’s the point?

        Mobile Internet access, on the other hand, is awesome.

        1. Dude, Banacek’s car phone was the shit. You’re just jealous too.

          1. Well, that’s different. Just like Straker on U.F.O.. Everything they did was cool

            1. Until we all have built-in booze dispensers in our ultra-modern offices, no one should.

              1. That’s the future we should’ve had–cool everything, and a secret war with aliens.

                1. And no one rocked a Nehru jacket like Ed Stryker.

                  1. The look of that future is one of the best. Purple hair on the Moon for the win!

              2. We need built-in booze dispensers in our google cars. What will the cops make illegal when cars dont speed or run lights or get DUIs? They cant let their budgets drop.

                1. One word – minimum speed zones.

      2. ARRRGH! Look how big. That means its way better than poor peoples cell phones were at the time.

        1. You should see their laptops. I think we’re collectively fatter now due to all of the miniaturization.

          1. I worked on one of those during a newspaper internship in college and I actually used it as a *portable device.* I think I pulled a muscle taking it home.

            1. If we had to carry those today, we’d be a superior race of Nordic supermen.

              1. Smashing the skulls of our enemies open, using only the keyboards.

                1. You could kill an elephant with a correctly wielded Kaypro.

                  1. PL: I was very fond of my “transportable” Kaypro.

              2. Or a race of hunchbacks.

    1. I remember a year or two after VHS units came out my mom bought one for x-mas. They had come down a bit in price but were still not that common. Another customer at the store made a rude comment like “oh, wouldn’t that be nice to be able to afford that” in a nasty tone of voice. I stared her down with my best monocle stare.

      1. And of course a few years later everyone could afford one.

        1. And now everyone is throwing them into landfills – if they haven’t already.

          1. I think a lot of people are holding on to them until they become collectible.

          2. I think I still have one buried somewhere in my basement…you know, in case I need to pop a vhs tape in sometime.

            1. Well what else are you going to watch porn on? Its not the same without a fading picture, static, and lines rolling across the screen.

          3. Now everyone is throwing them away?

            I threw my VHS player away about a decade ago.

  5. Rich people will be fucking each other in space before the rest of us, too. They’ll also have robot slaves and flying cars first.

    However, without rich people buying these things, then WE’D NEVER FUCKING GET THEM AT ALL.

    1. We can’t allow others to enjoy sex in space unless they bring all of us to have sex in space too. Normally we’d be against interfering in their bedrooms, but those fuckers are rich.

      1. Until we have anti-gravity Orgasmatrons, no space travel for anyone!

        1. Until we have free anti-gravity Orgasmatrons.

          1. No fucking way I’m paying for my own orgasms.

            No. Fucking. Way.

            /Sandra Fluke

              1. I hadn’t seen that before. Cool!

                1. A meme generator? Or the one I made from copying what you wrote?

          2. Not for everyone. Taxpayers will still have to pay their own way.

    2. They’ll also have robot slaves and flying cars first.

      Flesh lights are pretty cheap…same with ultralights.

      1. Sure, there are cheap, dangerous alternatives for poor people. Or you can wait until the technology is perfected.

  6. If someone claims to be a “bioethicist”, you are immediately free to ignore every single thing that comes out of their mouth afterward. If your entire profession is limited to fabricating “ethics” about other people’s actual work, you’re nothing but an intellectual parasite.

    Homeopathic Doctor: I have a degree in homeopathic medicine.

    Civil Defense Van: You’ve got a degree in baloney!

    1. +infinity

    2. Seriously. Have you ever heard a “bioethicist” say anything that you couldn’t have thought up on your own in about two minutes? They’re just a bunch of med school professors who’ve found a way to get stuff published without doing any work.

      1. I had to take a bioethics course as part of pre-med studies back in the day. Awful class with droning, self-important prof. Worst part: A term paper I wrote came back with this on the cover:
        “Wonderfully well-written, with solid foundation for your argument. Unfortunately your position is incorrect. D+”

        1. Kidding right? Please? Pretty please?

    3. The first rule of bioethics, as far as I can tell from my occasional high-speed encounters with it, seems to be:

      What the patient wants is of no concern whatsoever.

      Bioethics seems to be mostly an exercise in subordinating the individual to the collective. A bioethicist will rarely reach a conclusion that isn’t oriented at what’s best for the collective, individual patient wants/needs/desires/outcomes/resources be damned.

      1. Bioethicists will always call for whatever solution will involve the most opportunities for interest-weighing. Which of course can be done properly only by bioethicists.

        If they let individual patients decide what’s best, they’d be out of work!

  7. Hey, someone people rather have half a dead baby than for someone else to have a live baby while they got nothing.

    1. What about the baby from Eraserhead?

  8. Early adopters almost always get shitty versions at sky-high prices that pay for the cool versions at affordable prices for the rest of us. What lunatic would want to ruin that cycle??

    1. Fucking moronic statist progressives, that’s who.

      1. Seriously.

        I went to the owner of the company I work for’s house. He has a home theater, as do I. He was an early adopter and had to have spent five times what I did, and his projector is like a fucking Volkswagen and the rest incredibly dated.

        But if he and others as wealthy as he hadn’t bought that stuff that we now laugh at as crap, the groovy gear I have would never have been made.

    2. I hope you will thank me for helping to make possible that Kindle or Nook you’re enjoying right now for less than a third of what I paid for a device with little memory and a short battery life.

      1. I’m more of a leather-bound book stick in the mud, but if I were a Kindler, I’d thank you.

        1. Good enough!

      2. I’m about to upgrade from the Nook I bought for $149 3 years ago to a lighter, backlit one with more storage and better battery life for less money. Thanks for taking one for the team.

        1. You are too kind, sir.

      3. I was one of those who waited in line for the first iPhone and gladly paid $600 for it. The rest of you get free Androids because of my efforts. Ditto with tablets (I bought an iPad the day they were announced).

        You’re welcome.

  9. Don’t they get it? Wealthy guinea pigs! You never want to be first in new medical treatments. The guy who got the first artificial heart only lived for a few months, but it’s decades later and look at me now. Half my body is artificial and I’ve never felt mor

    1. e…incapable of completing a sentence?

    2. onic?

    3. phologically consistent?

    4. Ha, I’m playing Deus Ex at this very moment. Stealth take downs FTW.

    5. And now you’re more machine than man, twisted and evil?

  10. How the…what?! Is that retard suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to access a product until EVERYONE can? Is this life or fucking kindergarten?!

    And as a person who actually does whole-genome cancer research, I don’t appreciate being told what to do by those who majored in Middle-German underwater tapestry studies.

    This really pissed me off.

    1. As no doubt you already know, you can get quite a lot of DNA from Middle-German underwater tapestries.

      1. Indeed, we scientists of middling intelligence cannot decipher this special tapestry nucleic acid. The help of a tapestry studies major is needed!

      2. Very kinky – but how do they know it’s from the one in the middle?

  11. Does our general opinion of bioethicists need to be repeated?

    1. Not when we can just look it up in the official Libertarian book of allowed opinions and definitions.

      1. *looks up Bill*

        Well, it says you’re retarded, so I guess I have to go with that.

  12. Until everyone can have a kidney donated to them, no one should.

    Wouldn’t the bioethicist demand that kidneys be taken from the healthy to meet the demand of the sick? You’ve got 2 healthy kidneys and he has none. WHY ARE YOU HOARDING YOUR KIDNEYS?

    1. “WHY ARE YOU HOARDING YOUR KIDNEYS?”

      Really laughed at that.

  13. “If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that rich people can even access it?”

    Because when we did give the poor access to experimental treatments, you told us to stop because we were just exploiting their desperation.

    1. The other thing about that quote that doesn’t make sense is that if we waited until something wasn’t a “new” idea, we’d have a system even slower than the current shitty FDA-run slowfest, with much higher morbidity and mortality.

  14. Fuck “Bioethicist”. That is all.

  15. until everyone has a bioethicist job, no one should have a bioethicist job.

  16. “If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that rich people can even access it?” asked Wylie Burke, professor and chairwoman of the department of bioethics at the University of Washington.

    Because the rich people have the ability to pay for the new, untested procedure and are willing to assume the risks involved with using it? Can I be a bioethicist, too?

    1. Because the rich people have the ability to pay for the new, untested procedure and are willing to assume the risks involved with using it? Can I be a bioethicist, too?

      NO! Where the hell is your sense of social justice!? RACIST!

    2. You have to pay a university a couple hundred thou first.

  17. I hope you brought enough cancer treatment for everybody!

    1. Boy, is he strict!

  18. “If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that rich people can even access it?” asked Wylie Burke, professor and chairwoman of the department of bioethics at the University of Washington.

    “If we say we need research because this is a new idea, then why is it that poor people are the ones subjected to the risk of these untested and potentially dangerous methods?” asked Wylie Burke, professor and chairwoman of the department of bioethics at the University of Washington.

  19. The funny thing is, when poor people in Africa are given experimental treatments the bioethicists are up in arms about that too, because they can’t possibly give informed consent being so uneducated.

    So their position is that only perfectly average people should get these treatments, I guess.

    1. Wylie Burke probably thinks the real problem is that people are allowed to choose their treatments period. If there’s experimental treatments to be tests, Burke should get to choose who receives them, at which point they would be required to take them whether they wanted them or not.

      1. Right! And whether they have the disease or not!

    2. Poor smart people…

      So college students…which this guy was.

      Did i ever tell you guys about the nitrous tests i volunteered for at the University of Washington?

      basically got super high for a week and got payed 500$

      My girlfriend did it as well and the last visit she woke up and all her buttons on her shirt were done up wrong.

    3. Side by side, “informed but rich” vs. “poor but uninformed”, I’m personally inclined to favor the former test subjects over the latter.

      Seriously, a better understanding of the “early adopter” phenomenon and its economic benefits should be required for some people to know.

      1. She should be more careful when unbuttoning and buttoning while high. 🙂

        1. Probably.

          She told me about it but when i mentioned that she should report it and i would go with her to do it she just brushed it off.

          Why even mention it then?

          She lives in Texas now is married and has some kids…

          ..fuck that bitch.

  20. I like the sound of that dude.

    http://www.Big-Anon.tk

  21. “If God wants you to die young of something preventable, that’s good enough for me.”

  22. You know what? My Pa worked his fucking ass off his entire life and scrimped and saved and was an incredibly cheap bastard who thought taking the family to McD’s was a “special” night out. He didn’t come from money and was the first person in his family to go to college.

    Now he can afford to take my Ma wherever she needs to go to get the best cancer treatment available.

    So he and my Ma are supposed to be punished for working hard, right? That’s apparently The American Way.

  23. Standard first mover stuff. They paid more for VCRs and DVD players and etc.

    Nothing new here.

    1. I see I was late to the early adopter reference. Nevermind.

  24. “Bioethicist Complains that the Rich Are Getting Breakthrough Cancer Treatments First ”

    And for a bio-ethicist the solution to this is always that if everyone can’t get it then no-one should.

  25. There is a good reason for the existence of bio-ethicists, they seed lots of funny comments on Hit Run.

  26. The problem with their logic is that the treatments aren’t reserved for rich people. The rich have the exact same access as everyone else: they have to pay for it.

    If you doesn’t accept the fact that money is how we allocate scarce resources, then you are just a communist.

    1. “If you doesn’t accept the fact that money is how we allocate scarce resources, then you are just a communist.”

      And if you don’t accept price elasticity in medical care, then you ought to be satisfied with leaches.

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