At the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, the founders single out the current hostile regulatory environment surrounding aging, stem cell, regenerative medicine and anti-aging research as the shining example of what to avoid for the future of their own industry.
The research most likely to lead to real healthy life extension medicines is under attack from large, well-funded anti-progress groups and governments worldwide. Scientific advances, and the search for cures to currently incurable conditions, have been deliberately set back by years - and I have argued that the costs of delay are already unthinkable. Yet longer, healthier lives seem to be something that everyone wants. Just ask around. How do we, as a society, get ourselves into this sort of mess? Why are we not throwing every dollar we can into modern medicine?
In another part of the life extension community, hostile and unwelcome regulation is currently stalking Alcor. As Brian Wowk puts it in his excellent open letter:
"Where, then, are the dissatisfied consumers? Where are the unhappy Alcor members? Where are the family members that wanted cryonics for a loved one, but were let down by it? There appear to be none. There are only people who don't understand cryonics, people who don't want cryonics, and people who don't like what they read in newspapers about cryonics. That is not sufficient justification for a majority to use government force to assume control of a technology desired by a minority with beliefs different from theirs."
Indeed. The same can be said of efforts to hold back real anti-aging medicine by the likes of Leon Kass, or the continuing attempts by the current US administration to criminalize therapeutic cloning (a necessary technology for stem cell research and regenerative medicine) in the US and at the United Nations
This state of affairs, in which politicians and special interest groups willfully hold back and destroy the engines of progress, is not peculiar to healthy life extension. All medical research in the US and Europe is subject to ignorant, pandering regulation: price controls, shortages, enormous tax burdens, and so forth. In the worst cases, such as Germany and France, you see entire countries that contribute next to nothing to the advance of medical science. This is not for lack of will or desire, but their research and medical industries are hamstrung by decades of destructive government intervention.
In the US, the grand debate over medical regulation is currently best represented by price controls, drug reimportation, "free riding" and the effects of the FDA on the cost of new medical science. This debate is not academic for those of us who focus on healthy life extension - all the medical research that interests us must go through this same broken system. If the system creates too much of a burden on research or commercialization, then new medicine will never see the light of day, no matter how useful or compelling it is.
A Tech Central Station article entitled "Free Riding isn't Free" illustrates many of the relevant points in a compact fashion (alas, after some entirely inappropriate comments on the current anti-research US administration - everyone involved in government is corrupt in this day and age). Scroll down to the numbered sections in that article. The important points can be summarized as:
- Price controls kill people: they invariably reduce supply, leading to raised prices, black markets and shortages
- Excess regulation slows research (and, yes, kills people)
- Failure to understand supply, demand and basic economic truths by those who write legislation is destroying the advance of medicine
In reading the many articles on the state of the medical industry and medical research as a whole, I am left feeling very gloomy about the outlook for the next few decades. The US is clearly heading towards socialization of medicine after the Canadian and European models (and is already a good deal of the way there, frankly). The US is currently the world powerhouse in the most promising fields of medical research, but this will not last under a regime of price controls and economic ignorance. When the US drug companies can no longer afford to create new therapies, where then will the research happen? Certainly not France, Canada or Germany.
From that Tech Central Station article:
"Research by Carmelo Giaccotto and colleagues, published by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, estimated that, if price controls had been in effect in the United States between 1981 and 2002, there would be between 330 and 365 fewer new medicines on the market today. Research by John Vernon concluded that price controls applied in the U.S. today would lead to a cutback in new medicines by two-thirds within 50 years. But 50 years is a long time from now, and I am afraid the importation movement has immediate momentum."
We live in a strange, backwards world, in which everyone knows what is coming and what the costs in human life and suffering will be. Yet no-one seems able to prevent the monsters of politics, regulation and legislation from proceeding. The short term goals of special interest groups and political power always win out over our future health, longevity and well being.