Two interesting events happened in the American sporting world in the past two years. It involved two famous sportsmen, but it had nothing to do with sports. Michael Vick, a footballer for the Atlanta Falcons, was caught running a dog fighting ring. The uproar was tremendous as public opinion flowed in to protest the ghastly crime committed by the player. The law was also not slow in slapping him with some strong felony charges and he was rightly sent packing to prison.
Until recently, Vick served his prison term, lost his NFL berth, became bankrupt, was not easily forgiven by the law and still struggles to get back to his life. Now, all is well and good in this story. A man deserves to be punished for his crimes, in this case, the death of dogs. Even today, public opinion is largely skewed towards punishing him more by denying him a start to his NFL career. Great media coverage, great legal prosecution, great punishment and a great public reaction.
Now, fast forwarding it to another incident that involved the best swimming sensation the planet has ever seen so far, was another Michael, whose last name Phelps was being associated with everything good that people can think of either in the sporting world, in the business world, the media or the public in general. Michael Phelps was caught smoking Marijuana largely by accident when someone clicked away and shared photos that were probably not meant for public viewing. This is when the big “WHAT!!!?” sparked in my mind. The public protested but it just lasted a few days and seemed more of something done out of embarrassment than anger. The media covered it too. But, they too were caught up with news that was not getting enough attention from the public and to make matters worse even the law. The law did start investigating the matter, but soon enough, “public” opinion emphasized on the fact that this is “just” news and it is “just” drugs. In the words of the Sheriff who investigated the matter – “We had a photo and we had him saying he was sorry for his inappropriate behavior. That behavior could have been going to a party”. He never said, ‘I smoked marijuana.’ He never confessed that”. Phelps own statement went this way – “For me, it’s all about recognizing that I used bad judgment and it’s a mistake I won’t make again”. Great choice of words for something that Phelps did that nobody knew about! What was he feeling bad about? Nevertheless, people grew tired of the investigation, the law never followed up, Phelps got punished by not being allowed to swim in one of the pools and everyone was happy that the embarrassment didn’t last long.
This is where the big question arises – if something that affects dogs could evoke such genuine reaction and swift action, why can’t something that can tremendously affect people the world over not get the right response. Although personally there is nothing against Phelps, I fail to understand why Phelps and Vick couldn’t end up being on the same side of the fence. One obvious reason why it wasn’t that way is because people in general do not understand the number of lives that Marijuana takes in its way as it reaches the hands of a society that still fantasizes its use and struggles to outright criminalize its consumption.
Marijuana comes from several domestic and largely international sources. According to the US DEA, Marijuana is the most widely abused and readily available illicit drug in the USA. About 30% of the US population has used Marijuana sometime in their lives. This could potentially explain the lukewarm reaction to the “Phelps show”, but the dangers are not exposed enough. Organized crime groups and cartels run these operations in different countries possibly eliminating a few people before a pound of Marijuana makes its way to US shores. A high quality Marijuana sells for about $6000 per pound. I believe it is safe to assume that on its way to the US, a pound of Marijuana must have eliminated at least one person in a so called “third world” country. No price can be set for life, whether it is a person or an animal. That price is definitely not as low as $6000 or $10000 a pound. If a person consumes a gram of marijuana, he is in effect paying $12 for ecstasy and $0 for one human life. The question becomes who needs to pay for the “free” life that one consumes when smoking this drug. Given that this is designated as a gateway drug to more powerful drugs, the bloodshed on the way is immeasurable but yet more significant. If Vick paid up millions in fines and lost his job for the “life” that he consumed, why couldn’t a user of drugs also be responsible for a similar fate?
The war against drugs has been ongoing for several years and there has always been a debate over who the “criminal” is and who needs to be punished for the selling and consumption of drugs. Nevertheless, public reaction and debate are the only triggers that can create laws that protect the weak – a dog or a human being. By remaining silent or worse not even bothering to react, we people have probably exposed our inability to value human life beyond the life of a dog by refusing to think and question the actions around us.
Doctors and Hospitals in India have less at stake when it comes to safe recommendation and regulation of medication for patients. In a World that wakes up and sleeps to the music of money, the only stick that holds greed at bay is confirmation to strict legal regulations. Without a strong legal base in a country, the law remains powerless when it comes to monitoring the greedy acts of companies. When a doctor prescribes a “special” medicine to an ignorant patient on the behest of a pharmaceutical firm working to test those drugs, there is nothing within the legal rights of the patient to stop such acts. India has a lot of laws that prescribe the right conduct of such trials and these companies make sure that these legal edicts are safely followed on paper. Unfortunately, in countries where issues do not even reach the doors of the law for justice to be served, the end result is the lack of any law in the first place. India and several other materialistically poor nations suffer from this incurable disease. I have personally observed how daunting an experience it is talking with doctors and hospital/clinic staff who literally have a free ride in not only recommending any number of medications they like without fear of being legally sued, but also have the audacity to scold or threaten patients if things are not to their liking. Several of these doctors are constantly approached by medical representatives, who act as a sales front for the pharmaceutical firms. Sometimes, in the guise of an informed consent, they literally dump new medications or slow-moving medications to unwary patients. One can only imagine how it would look like for the largely poorer or ignorant sections that constitutes about 70% of the Indian population.
In all this melee hides a silent and often ignorant sleeping giant – the FDA. The FDA authorizes foreign clinical studies as long as it abides by the regulations set by the host country (where the trial is conducted mostly in secrecy) or to other ethical principles under the Declaration of Helsinki (which I believe is no longer relevant), whichever protects human rights better. This unfortunately is a mere fallacy that has no practical meaning whatsoever. All the profit making pharmaceutical firms in the World look forward to the FDA as the gate keeper who opens them to the mecca of blockbuster drug sales – the USA. The US is one of the largest consumers of prescription drugs and one of the most profitable markets for any drug company. Fortunately, this country has the FDA to hopefully regulate the kind of drugs brought out into the market and its long term use and existence. Also, a network of well organized lawyers later ensure that these firms are selling what they promise they cure or else slap them with multi-million dollar law suits that usually work in favor of the “cheated” patient. Unfortunately, the FDA is not thinking in clear terms when it comes to how these companies work to meet the requirements of their strong codes of conduct.
The FDA does not have the resources nor a nationalistic purpose to clearly monitor the often obscure methods employed by these large drug companies in conducting their trials in remote areas of Asia or Africa. The FDA has to answer the US government and its citizens and that is all it is driven by as a daily mantra for ensuring that quality foods and drugs enter the US. In such a state of affairs, the FDA should be morally more inclined to not accept any foreign clinical trials unless it has it own people closely monitoring that process. In fact, to take it a step further, it is completely wrong on the part of the FDA to allow such foreign tests on human guinea pigs when it as an agency does not have the power to dictate how other countries should regulate the action of drug companies in their soil. The guiding principle of “informed consent” as a signature on a blank check for legally authorizing companies to conduct tests on people is an entirely weak argument when it is easily realized that poor people hardly have the power or the knowledge to understand their rights in the first place. It is very unfortunate that this greedy act that largely benefits profit seeking multinational drug companies is allowed to continue in the name of giving healthy, “well tested” drugs to the “developed” nations of the world.
After all, these well tested and safe drugs are either heavily expensive or never reach the poor countries that largely test it. It is usually the cheap ripoffs or generics that are either affordable or available to large sections of the population in countries such as India. To make matters worse, in the name of protecting so called patents, the large drug companies have used the WTO to force countries like India from reverse-engineering these drugs to create cheaper alternatives. So now, not only do people in India test themselves with these drugs but never get to use them if they really need it.