With the global recession upon us, William Saletan of Slate Magazine looks at the ways people are using their bodies to make money. From using bodies as billboards to the sale of organs, the article details the methods to make some money during trying financial times.
And if extra cash to women who need it is a good thing, what about the increasing use of undeveloped countries as testing grounds for drugs not yet approved in the West? According to an article in the New England Journal Medicine, “Pharmaceutical and device companies can realize substantial cost savings by conducting trials in developing countries, so they are increasingly moving phase 2 and phase 3 trials to places such as India and South America.” In these countries,
There may be a relative lack of understanding of both the investigational nature of therapeutic products and the use of placebo groups. In some places, financial compensation for research participation may exceed participants’ annual wages, and participation in a clinical trial may provide the only access to care for persons with the condition under study. Standards of health care in developing countries may also allow ethically problematic study designs or trials that would not be allowed in wealthier countries. In one study, only 56% of the 670 researchers surveyed in developing countries reported that their research had been reviewed by a local institutional review board or health ministry. In another study, 90% of published clinical trials conducted in China in 2004 did not report ethical review of the protocol and only 18% adequately discussed informed consent.
So, the standards overseas are lower, and the people recruited to test the drugs have fewer choices. But isn’t that how capitalism works? Aren’t these people getting value in exchange for supplying their bodies at lower cost? As Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, puts it: “More places outside the United States are participating in research—is that a bad thing?”
Saletan’s article is largely non-judgmental. However, he errs when he wields his broad brush and claims that surrogates and egg donors are “all being driven by money”. Unquestionably we are seeing an increase in the number of woman offering to serve as gestational carriers and egg donors. But it is too simplistic and frankly inaccurate to lump all of these women together and claim they have a singular purpose. The decision to donate or serve as a surrogate is not a binary equation as these women factor many issues into the decision-making process. While money has always been a motivator, it generally is not the sole reason. In fact, for surrogates, if financial gain or distress was the sole factor for being a carrier, then the candidate would be rejected. While Saletan’s article is provocative, he does a great disservice to the tens of thousands of women, who motivated by altruism, assist others in having their families.
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