Thursday, 16 March 2006

Surely there is something you can give me, Doc?

This drugs trial fiasco is quite horrific but it forces us to face up to a number of truths.

Millions of us will have woken this morning and taken prescribed and unprescribed medicines for all manner of conditions and illnesses. Every one of those drugs passed through a similar trials process that enabled them to come into public use.

Millions of us will today have attended our doctors seeking a cure for whatever complaint we might have. In a number of cases, the doctors will have nothing to offer. In some of those cases, the doctors will know of something that might be available soon but which has not yet completed its trials process.

In situations where the patient becomes aware of this (breast cancer sufferer and Herceptin, for example), the patient is very likely to become quite militant in their demand for the drug. After all their life may depend upon it.

Put quite simply, the need to test drugs is beyond crucial. There is nothing wrong with it. It has been going on for a hundred years. What is amazing is that drug trial crises like this one don't happen much more regularly. But it is unquestionably the case that for this we have to thank the animals which bear the brunt of our initial explorations.

We can demand that drug trials adhere to the strictest regulations possible and minimise the risk of failure but we cannot demand that all drugs travel to the chemist's counter without causing some harm in their development process. The question we must all ask ourselves is how much harm we are prepared to tolerate in the name of our health and longevity and who or what should bear it?

If we don't answer this question, then either young men and women like these will be harmed more often or the doctor will have less to offer you in your hour of need.

Get well soon, men.

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