OPINION

The price of therapy

I just want to help sick people,» Dr Michael West said years ago when speaking about the first attempts to clone the human embryo. But this statement was refuted by the fact that he was not speaking as a researcher or doctor but as the «president and managing director» of a firm manufacturing genetic applications. Bearing a title linked to investments and profits, he acknowledged that it was not just the contribution to his ailing fellow humans that inspired him; the desire for hard dollars was also very much alive. But if Mr West’s official title belied the altruism he was attempting to demonstrate, was it also refuting the outcome of his activities? Even if he only had financial gain on his mind, that wouldn’t stop his «applications» from helping sick people – albeit only those who can afford to fuel his profit-oriented ambitions. And indeed they did help people. Even with profit as the chief motivation, cloning with the aim of producing a therapeutic gene will continue to constitute a viable treatment for the rich. And if society were to condemn as unethical this privileged treatment in the case of an excessively wealthy old man, would it pass similar judgment on an ailing young man who happens to be rich? Or to a sick, but poor, young man to whom the «miracle gene» would be made accessible by a generous state health service in the not-too-distant future?