TED Talk Tuesday: Human Lab Rats

First, let me say that “Human Lab Rats” is not the official title of this talk, but as I listened to Boghuma Kabisen’s presentation, that was the only phrase I could think of do describe what is occurring in many parts of the developing world. On the surface, these clinical trials seems great – searching for a cure and providing free medication to patients who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

The problem, of course, is that many of these research efforts are not driven as much by a desire to help people as they are a desire to publish papers, secure grants, build egos and, ultimately, to generate billions of dollars in revenue for pharmaceutical companies. Here in the U.S. and in Europe, we sometimes hear of a clinical trial that put people at significant and undisclosed risk. How much more is that occurring in countries where sick, uneducated, trusting souls are being administered these medications without any real understanding of what is going on?

That a researcher, whether independent, university or corporate, would then leave patients, essentially, to die once the research was completed, says that they fail to value the lives that they are supposed to be saving. Perhaps they see these patients not as people at all, but as “subjects” of experimentation.

I’ve walked and talked with desperate people – in Africa and in other parts of the world. If you offer the possibility of improving their life – if even a glimmer of hope – they will follow after you begging for you to give them what you’ve got. To take advantage of these people is to devalue them in ways that harken back to the days of slavery and colonialism. It reduces them to “less than human” – rats in a lab set up for the purpose of swelling egos and fattening wallets.

Surely we can do better.