Saturday, January 5, 2008


Thomas Riggins

There is an interesting article in the 12-21-07 issue of SCIENCE ("The Ethics of International Research with Abandoned Children" by Joseph Millum and Ezekiel J. Emanuel). I'm not going to review the whole article. I'm just going to give a little background to show what is going on and make a few remarks. The article's main thrust is about the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (the effects of moving children to foster care from institutions) but the following experiment with HIV prevention was mentioned. I think it illustrates a real problem with capitalist science.

Lots of people have HIV/Aids. There is a STANDARD TREATMENT [ST] used in the developed world to prevent the fetal transmission of HIV. Remark: This is costly and under capitalism there is a drive to save money. It was decided that poor people in the developing world would not get the ST but instead would get the "Short Course AZT" [SC]. SC would likely be less effective than the ST. So here we have two ways to treat sick people--in the rich world a really good way and for the poor a "less effective way." This should remove any illusion that "ethics" is at work! This is not the fault of science but of capitalist science.

The SC had to be tested. IF it were tested in the rich world there would have been at least two groups of children-- one given the ST and one the SC to see what the difference was. All children would have had some treatment. But it was tested in the Third World so the two groups of children were one where NO children got any treatment and one getting the SC. (Actually the two groups were those of pregnant women-- fetal transmission was the issue.) This treatment of Third World non-white populations is considered by some as SOP. Anyone interested in this subject should google "short course AZT tests" and / or "third world medical experiments" for more information.

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