Deadly Monopolies carries a subtitle on the cover: ‘The Shocking Corporate Takeover Of life Itself – And The Consequences For Your Health And Our Medical Future’. As this suggests the book takes a critical look at the biological patent industry, the effects upon society of the proliferation of the patenting of naturally occurring elements, and the workings of both the large pharmaceutical companies and the US state regulation authorities.
In a very well researched book, Harriet A. Washington takes us through the history of medical patenting, not only in purely technical terms but also in the way that various courts have interpreted their use and adjudicated in cases that involve members of the public.
For a non expert the rulings are quite shocking. The marriage between hospitals, academic institutions and large corporations that began in the 1980’s has been both positive and negative. Universities have had access to money, but in maintaining their partnerships with big business they have become secretive, vigorous patentees and upholders of those patents, and fonts of human tissues and body parts for a thirsty industry.
The book outlines several case studies of legal battles involving members of the public that have discovered that tissues taken from their bodies, often without consent, have been used for research and are bought and sold on the open market without their permission and without compensation. In most of the cases noted the law courts have ruled that the individuals involved have no rights over their own body tissues as they have been patented by corporations that then hold the right to their distribution and revenue.
The patent issue is also addressed in terms of its effect upon research, with corporations aggressively defending their patent rights upon both natural elements and industrial or medical processes. The author argues that this has led to research into some areas either being abandoned or held back due to possible litigation or actual legal action.
The author also goes into great detail about how (in her opinion) pharmaceutical companies spend most of their research dollars on looking for high finance medication for diseases that occur primarily in rich countries, but use the third world as a testing ground for non licensed prototypes that often cause grave medical problems and are refused entry into the markets they were being designed for. She also believes that nearly all research is conducted into diseases that affect wealthy societies, and that the big killers and problems that affect the poor receive little or no interest.
Washington also describes how the industry manipulates research and trials in order to gain FDA permission to sell medicines, some that later turn out to be unsafe, but also how funding of the FDA itself means that its impartiality must be drawn into question.
Not exactly a book at bedtime we might say, but difficult to turn away from and not easy to ignore, Deadly Monopolies is published by Doubleday in New York (2011) 433 pages and costs $28.95
The issues raised in Deadly Monopolies are not new to readers of the Bassetti Foundation website and the following gives a taste of how the arguments have been addressed.
February of 2005 saw Daniel Callahan post an article entitled ‘Sustainable Medicine: Two Models Of Health Care’, based upon his Bassetti Foundation sponsored lecture at the Catholic University of Milan. Amongst other things the article discusses medical reform, reasons for the rising costs of health care in Western countries and a call for sustainable medicine.
The call for comments moderated by Cristina Grasseni referring to Callahans lecture offers a broader outline of his arguments and work and a series of interesting interventions in both Italian and English.
For links to his work in Italian see this post by Paola Parmendola that includes a book review as well as links to various articles.
Also in 2005 Cristina Grasseni and Piero Bassetti interviewed Thomas Murray, President of the Hastings Center in Garrison, New York. The discussion ranges from outlining Murray’s research interests and the problem of defining responsibility to the ethical implications of genomic knowledge and bio-banks and the sustainability of the medical system itself.
In 2009 Jonathan Hankins posted an article entitled ‘Drugs for People, Not for Profit’ in which he outlines the findings of a report of the same name published by the think tank Compass. This report presents many of the arguments that are fleshed out in Washington’s book reviewed above.
In 2011 Margaret Cornutte presented her work at the Foundation on “The Construction of the Genetic Consumer in the US”. This article also contains a review of other postings on the Bassetti Foundation website that address the issue of genetic testing in various ways.
A search through the archives will reveal more for an interested reader.
Hear the author interviewed on US National Public Radio here:
A preview by the book: