Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Society's Cancer

Cancer strikes over a million people in the United States every year. Approximately half a million people die from it every year. While cancer rates have been dropping steadily for some time, the number of people contracting it in its many varieties is still very high. Efforts to get people to quit smoking, avoid tanning (or use sunscreen), and have regular exams have led to the drop, but there are so many other factors that we still do not understand. And the multitude and variety of cancers is such that common knowledge of one type of cancer does not necessarily translate to another. It continues to be the scourge of our nation, and the world, right along with AIDS, Hepatitis, and so many other pathogens and diseases.

So when I turn on the television, what do I see? Commercials for erectile dysfunction medications, in a profusion and abundance that makes it seem as if there is an epidemic of ED and it's only a matter of time before I am struck down.

The reason is pretty simple: money. While not cheap, compared to the billions spent yearly on cancer research over the last 40 years or so, finding a pill to allow a man to have an erection is cheap and easy. And hey, if you don't have ED, but want to be able to act as if you are God's gift to women, you can take it recreationally.

Nobody does chemotherapy or uses AZT recreationally.

I suppose part of the problem really is that we, as individuals, don't see the cost of cancer to society as a whole. With no universal health coverage, and with the health insurance available fraught with beauracracy, obfuscation, and skulduggery, we don't see the cost of medical care rising as treatments for cancer become more extensive and expensive, in the hopes of staving it off or eliminating it. We fail to notice that by not making precautionary medical visits readily available, we often are forced into lavish and expensive procedures to fight cancer, after it has invaded someone's body. It escapes our notice that the cost of a man being unable to have sex is minimal by comparison.

It's far easier, apparently, to empathize with a man who can't get it up, rather than a child, forced at an early age to undergo painful radiation treatments and chemotherapy to attempt to drive out childhood cancer. We feel for the guy who can't be as sexual a he'd like, as opposed to the woman who is forced into a mastectomy or historectomy because cancer is wracking her body and jeopardizing her very life. Apparently the ability for a man to have sex is of more paramount value than keeping him from contracting almost-certainly-fatal pancreatic cancer.

I know, I know, the pharmaceutical industry makes hundreds of medications to treat every manner of debilitating disease or condition: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. Many of those medications are, however, old news, hardly profitable, only still around because so many people are dependent on them. I also realize they are publically-traded companies, beholden to shareholders who demand a return on their investment. Isn't it about time, though, that the investment was not looked on in wholly monetary terms? Is it just possible we could look past the need for personal profit and instead address the need for social profit?

Medicine requires its practitioners to do no harm, to use their talents to help others live longer by preventing disease, or dealing with it where it cannot be prevented. They have a covenant with their patients that is sacrosanct; the same cannot be said of the pharmaceutical industry. The desire for profit allows businessmen to convince themselves that the decisions they make are somehow the best for all concerned. The "greater good" does not enter into their equation. While there is profit in a man's loss of sexual prowess or a woman's vanity, big pharma will do all it can to feed such things.

1 comment:

  1. The cancer that my mom died from is one of the least researched out there. So basically, you get it, you're fucked. And it's so frustrating to see these things that you mentioned in this post being researched all to hell. I understand that it's a legitimate problem, but no one's ever died from ED. And that's probably just me being bitter, but come on.