Friday, August 19, 2005

Merck Fined $253 Million in Vioxx lawsuit

Big news. Drug maker Merck has been found liable for the death of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old marathon runner who died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx for his arthritis. The drug company has been assessed a fine of $253 million.

Here's my take on the whole situation. Drug companies are motivated primarily by the quest for greater profits, and this leads to a reduced emphasis on safety and quality of products, as illustrated previously in the Fen-Phen debacle, and now again with Vioxx, and in several other cases. If we were to nationalize these pharmaceutical companies, we might be able to enforce stricter standards of research and quality control, and we would certainly end the drug companies' unjust price inflation. True, nationalization is an extreme option, and there is probably a better solution somewhere in the middle. But something needs to be done, and fast, before more people die because a drug company was more concerned about making a buck than curing disease.

I have a serious ethical and moral problem with the concept of for-profit health care, and this case serves as yet another example of why I feel justified in this position. I do not believe that it is ethically justifiable to make a profit off of another person's illness or injury, and I certainly don't believe that these drug companies have a right to charge exorbitant prices for drugs that haven't even been tested properly in the first place. This country needs a fundamental change in the way it does health care. We need to start thinking of health care as a right, rather than a privilege or a "product" that can be marketed. We need to start thinking of people who need health care as citizens, not consumers. If we can do that, then we'll be on track to joining the rest of the industrialized world and creating a good national health care system that covers everyone equally and comprehensively.

And then maybe we can start focusing on curing cancer and AIDS rather than baldness and erectile dysfunction.