There is a difference between science and healthcare and I contend that the healthcare system in the US undermines the legitimacy of modern science and creates a misconception about the discipline.
Science is the foundation upon which healthcare was constructed. Trial and error through experiment has led to some breakthrough moments in our short history: Louis Pasteur confirmed that germs cannot spontaneously generate, a cornerstone idea of health medicine. The affirmation of germ theory led to a rare, accidental finding of arguably the greatest contributor to human health: antibiotics. Alexander Fleming’s trial and error work with this discovery would be a pivotal point in human advancement and health. Some fifty years after him, a group of patient, dedicated scientists managed to map our DNA. The implications of this feat are still being realized, but we have glimmers of hope in being able to detect early breast cancer markers, or the possibility of turning off a maleficent gene. We are indebted to science and those thankless hours put in by faceless people for our health and well being and future immortality.
There is a clear delineation between doing science as mentioned above, and how it is applied by any industry. When its applied by the healthcare industry, the United States consumer is met with an inaccurate perception of how science works and is presented with the unique challenge of having to compartmentalize the benefits and advances of science from the greed and distortion of corporate governance. Watching from a living room television, science in the form of healthcare is marketed right along side Carl’s Jr. hamburgers and cute car insurance commercials. Each new medicine seems to be clamoring for our attention, promising a better lifestyle, ensuring happiness. We get the idea that science is a pastel colored pill that answers all ills when in fact its very much arduous work and numerous failings. And when we hear stories of blatant greed, exemplified perfectly by Martin Shkreli just a few weeks ago when he increased the cost of a drug by an astronomical amount, it becomes difficult to separate the benefits and necessity of science from an industry that’s obviously profit driven.
We must remember that healthcare is only part of modern science and the discipline as a whole is worthy of our respect. Science is the one thing that has given us legs to run on, so to speak, and has answered our questions most concisely, plausibly, and possibly. Global projects provide refreshing and beautiful examples of the way science brings us together to work towards a goal, providing a more accurate picture its workings. The International Space Station requires the consideration and cooperation of several nations, as well as their scientists and engineers. The Large Hadron Collider is beyond comparison with regards to how well science joins together various individuals from all disciplines, nationalities, and interests. Any find in an archeological dig is also accompanied with other academic information: what geologic time period is it in? what cultural markers are found? what political system was in place? All of these pieces of information matter and a correct assessment of any bone or skeleton must also include these elements of life. The point is that science is a wholly co-operative endeavor, and we certainly don’t get that impression from a healthcare system that seems to exploit for the almighty dollar rather than to heal with dignity and empathy.
Capitalism has its place within our economic system and I wouldn’t want to give up its inherent capacity to drive invention and creativity. However, there are areas where ‘doing anything to make a buck’ isn’t in the best interest of our species and also creates a damaging perception to the very foundations of our progress. It is time to consider that our healthcare system is not best suited to a capitalist market system.
In the meantime, it is important for us to challenge ourselves to learn to separate the commercialism of our healthcare industry from its foundations in science. I believe it will empower us for one thing. I think we’ll find the strength to stand up for ourselves and hold Big Pharma accountable for its avarice in an industry where compassion is required. I hope we can come to understand that science is always a group effort and requires as much training and conditioning as any Super Bowl football team. I hope we can give those gracious souls willing to spend their time inside a sterile lab their due thanks, they are the ones who drive us forward and improve our quality of life.
There is a difference between the discipline of science, and how it is applied and marketed by the healthcare industry. We must challenge ourselves to be aware of the discrepancy so as to draw healthy boundaries and enable future progress.
Here’s to meeting the challenge.