Plausible, Possible, Expensive, Prohibited

As an idle line of thought, what could you have done to yourself today in the field of cutting edge medicine and biotechnology at a moderate to high cost, setting aside the oppressive prohibition of medical regulation? Absent entities like the FDA - and a million other government employee busybodies who itch to regiment and enforce every aspect of our lives - it would be perfectly possible to get out there and solicit deals with researchers and clinics to try new things. To take your own estimate of risk and benefit, rather than being forced to wait for years or decades longer for medical technologies that might in the end be blocked entirely thanks to regulatory costs.

But what could you do today in world that was more free, and with enough money to pay for a major medical procedure? Here are a few examples with varying risk-reward profiles, pulled from the air:

  • Have your aging immune system wiped out with chemotherapy and replaced from your stem cells. Your wager here would be that undergoing chemotherapy (not a wonderful experience under the best of circumstances) will cause you less harm in the long term than keeping your original, increasingly misconfigured immune system. Alternately, you could wait a decade for targeted cell-killer therapies demonstrated in mice to become a practical concern in humans.
  • Undergo any one of a number of potential enhancing gene therapies. For example, why not pay your way into possessing a myostatin mutation? That boosts muscle mass, increases resistance to a range of age-related conditions, and otherwise seems to be beneficial all-round in mammals.
  • Purchase stem cell infusions of the sort that seem to be at least modestly helpful for any number of degenerative conditions - a better option than traditional pharmaceutical medicines. But of course you can't do that in the US, just like you can't benefit from near all of the most recent advances, locked away in trials for years yet. You'd have to head overseas as a medical tourist to become a customer of the more reliable clinics in Asia or the Middle East.
  • Decide in your healthy old age that the possible benefits outweigh the risks for infusion-based biphosphonate therapy. Of course you can't obtain that legally as a healthy person - those regulators again, deciding that they know better and anyone who disagrees with them will ultimately wind up in jail.
  • Choose to end your own long-lived life in a safe and painless way at the time of your choosing, while attended by cryonics professionals who can provide an immediate and expert preservation - offering absolutely the best chance of later restoration with minimal damage, while keeping the cost to a sensible minimum thanks to scheduling.

I could go on - that just scratches the surface. But of course any group that gathered in the US to try these things, or offer services, or make the process as safe and transparent as possible would quickly find themselves prosecuted and jailed. The land of the free long ago ceased to have much to do with liberty or personal freedom. Freedom is the freedom to take your own risks and pay the costs if you pull a bad card from the deck - and that freedom is exactly what drives progress. Take it away and what results is the regulatory stagnation you see in medicine today.


This is undoubtedly true.

But note that even ostensibly anti-government types ignore the extent to which legal restrictions and the state's monopoly of violence prevent individuals from freely making decisions impinging upon their own health and well being.

As a life long lefty, I'm also astonished by how indifferent the left is to these issues. By and large, the left takes the implicitly creationist standpoint that nature is perfect as it is. One would expect the right to take an opposite stance on the matter. With exceptions such as this blog, they do not.

Posted by: Ranjit Suresh at May 3rd, 2012 8:01 PM

This is undoubtedly false.

The duty of a regulator - in most countries - is to make sure a technology is safe and accessible. These technologies, although undoubtedly beneficial, were regulated for either one or two reasons, or both. Firstly, and this applies to all of them, their progress was slowed or halted due to the fact that they were not safe to use. This is born out by experts, but it is intuitively obvious to all who read about them - intentionally destroy your immune system with chemotherapy anyone? Please. It is not the state's irresponsibility in prohibiting them, but the developer's irresponsibility in developing these unsafe technologies where the blame lies; subsequently, the state must step into prohibit them to prevent them being sold to unsuspecting members of the public who may lose their lives and their health in the process.

Posted by: HR at May 4th, 2012 2:22 AM

@HR: You should read more on the immune system destruction with chemotherapy before dismissing it as self-evidently unsafe. For example, see:

[Type 1 diabetes] patients who underwent a procedure to wipe out the immune system and reconstitute it with their own stem cells remained insulin injection-free for up to three to four years after the procedure ... The report extends research published in 2007 showing that the majority of 15 patients who underwent a blood stem-cell transplant were able to remain insulin-free for more than 18 months.

Posted by: Reason at May 4th, 2012 4:17 AM

Gene therapy sounds the most attractive to me. Scientific American did a cover story on Gene doping about 8 years ago, and predicted it would be the next big thing in athletes. If it is indeed currently possible, I am surprised there have not been examples of myostatin gene doping as yet in Olympic or pro Athletes. 'Unfortunately' we don't have East Germany to test these things out of their athletes anymore. Maybe North Korea will have some super athletes this year!

Posted by: JohnD at May 4th, 2012 9:02 AM

Unsuspecting members of the general public? I daresay such therapies would be available only under the administration of medical doctors, who are not, (or should not) be "unsuspecting" or ignorant of the potential dangers and benefits. If someone wants to consult with a doctor, have the procedure explained, the costs/benefits examined, and then wishes to proceed ahead, then they are NOT unsuspecting or victims, but rather pro-active individuals seeking to ensure their own health. Why would the government attempt to prohibit that? Where is the advantage. It would PERHAPS be another matter if these were going to become over the counter kits where there is no medical supervision...but that would never happen.

Posted by: Matt E at May 5th, 2012 9:24 AM

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