Pulse on Health: The needs of the many vs. the few

Young Josh Hardy's heart and kidneys nearly lost the ability to function.

Despite surviving cancer, Josh, hospitalized in Tennessee , developed what otherwise could be a treatable infection. He needed an injectable form of an investigational drug not yet approved by the FDA, or available to most patients.

Josh's doctors believed the drug would help him — and that it was the only drug that could.His parents hoped the company would offer off-label doses to fulfill extraordinary need.

But the company declined. Helping this one patient could delay research, and even eventually delay Food and Drug Administration approval for patients in general, the company suggested.

The story went viral on traditional and social media, and after extensive gut-wrenching coverage, the drug was offered as part of a newly created research study.


The pharmaceutical company could have instead offered it immediately, but the company claimed that, despite how compassionate doing so might be, using the drug for a single individual had to be weighed against the good of patients in general.

I personally have diabetes and would love to be cured. But if an investigational cure gets developed, and someone else's life hangs in the balance, I want that patient saved. I'll wait the extra time required for my own cure.

The story of this young patient triggers memories of "Star Trek," when Mr. Spock says, "the needs of the many outweigh…" and Capt. Kirk completes his sentence by saying "…the needs of the few."

"Or the one," Spock adds.

That's a great personal ideal to strive for. But the real world of health care, profit and loss, and rationalization of ethical decisions is not "Star Trek." We need to decide the right course of action as an individual; a family, society, company or government.

Drug company researchers certainly seek to help comfort and heal. But the manner in which we treat one individual now prepares us all, in future times, for self shame and condemnation — or for humanity's glorious triumph.

It seems to me the right thing to do is to save the life in front of us now — so that we can look back with dignity at our past once the future arrives.

That should be a guiding principle for any health-related company.


Pulse on Health, published every Monday, is authored by health reporter Jeff Hansel. Follow him on Twitter @JeffHansel.

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