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The ability of patients to try e...

Posted Sep 12 2008 9:25am

The ability of patients to try experimental drugs outside of clinical trials has a lot in common with self-experimentation. The former empowers the patient; the latter empowers the amateur scientist. Another form of health-related empowerment is to allow people to buy and sell organs. Of course, some people are against this:

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a Berkeley anthropologist — now in residence at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute — has documented how wealthy organ brokers exploit the impoverished in places like Moldova and South Africa. She cites a moral parable . . . A starving man adrift with others on a raft does not have the right to eat his fellow passengers. [Huh?] Scheper-Hughes suggests there is something of the same “predatory” aspect to organ sales — a creepy assertion “that I have the right to the body of another person, to live.”

From the Boston Globe. To me, the creepy assertion is “I, Professor Scheper-Hughes, know better than other people what they should do with their own bodies.” Alas, this sort of professorial arrogance is common. I encountered it with the UC Berkeley Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects: I must have a certain control group in my experiment, they said. As if they knew how to do my research better than I did. I once heard an NPR commentator, describing her IRB participation, boast about this: “Sometimes a control was missing, or we felt the study was misguided.” A website about IRB abuses has many similar stories.

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