doctors, pharmaceutical manufacturers & priorities

This past weekend I worked with students at Kaneland High School to create a new play, which they’re producing in November. It’s pretty exciting, and I’ll write more on the process tomorrow.

But, today, I received an email from the director, my mother, and I want to address it. The question regarded how I characterized doctors in the play based on one line:

“The videos he left behind for me to learn were FAC-inating! Legalizing, regulating, doctors sharing with patients! That’s me. A regular Dr. Like Seuss…only I make the things he wrote about HAPPEN!”

This character talks about his father, who was a pharmaceutical manufacturer (the target here, not the doctors), and he taught his son how to make more drugs (after all the adults died). The character’s created a place where he enslaves other teenagers to create “chemical candy” for his own personal pleasures. I’m not trying to say all doctors are “bad.” That’s a gross generalization, and it’s not what the play is about. The note took issue with the idea that I’m demonizing doctors as people don’t provide any real service, or who are only feeding patients medicine that doesn’t really help them.

Doctors do “share drugs with patients.” General practitioners put people on anti-depressants all the time as a “band-aid” for bigger problems (or for people who don’t have problems at all). I’m certainly not suggesting we get rid of doctors. This whole scene, which takes place in an old pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, is a commentary on the Pharmaceutical industry focusing all their time on making drugs like Zolft, etc., spending all their money marketing these drugs, and not spending the same time and money on vaccinations for HIV or H1N1 flu virus. There is no reason we shouldn’t have a vaccination for either of these viruses; however, people are chomping up Prozac and Paxil like candy.

Every year overdoses from prescription medications are growing, and it’s due, in part, to doctors over prescribing and patients having too much freedom to get whatever drug they want whenever they want. To wit: “1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription (Rx) pain medication. Cocaine, Ecstasy and methamphetamine are each roughly half as prevalent as prescription drug abuse.” These companies are poisoning our youth (and our adults).

The other problem I’m addressing is Americans (especially) eat fast food, sit in front of computers and televisions for hours on end, and when our bodies start falling apart, we wonder why we need surgical procedures and extreme diets to aid our ails. We need to maintain our bodies, not fix them when they break down.

If we continue allowing pharmaceutical and insurance companies to drive production based on “making people feel better” and “if you can afford it,” doctors continue being slaves to these companies. This is where I believe some doctors have gone wrong. They rely on quick fixes that only temporarily help – or worse yet, they make people believe they were helped when they’re only sedated (ironically, this sedation also contributes to the sloth-like society in which we currently live). They receive kick backs from pharmaceutical companies, and that is a real shady game.

Do I think doctors are generally good, save and improve lives? Of course I do. Do I think pharmaceutical companies have grip of addiction on many Americans and push their agenda through compromised physicians who are paying for a summer house, a speed boat or a new car? Absolutely. Greed drives the companies, and greed drives these doctors.

As far as the moment in the play, the note certainly made me think about this issue more in depth, and if anything, I realize I need to clarify what the scene says. That’s the best thing to come out of this. If the play gets better, this whole thought tangent was worth it.

dying to live

“Curiously, peace-time appeals for individuals to make some small sacrifice in the rate at which they increase their standard of living seem to be less effective than war-time appeals for individuals to lay down their lives.”

THE SELFISH GENE, Richard Dawkins

This parenthetical comment in the first chapter of Mr. Dawkins seminal book, “The Selfish Gene,” that coined the word “meme,” a topic I’m currently researching for my next work, hit me like a sack of potatoes as I read last night. Mr. Dawkins creates the framework around which the rest of the book hangs by explaining the difference between altruism and selfishness as it pertains to genes*. In this statement, he examines how nations benefit from people laying down their lives “for the greater glory of their country as a whole. Moreover, they are encouraged to kill other individuals about whom nothing is known except that they belong to a different nation.”

It is fascinating, for we are dealing with those very ironies right now. Do we deploy more troops to Afghanistan, thereby putting soldiers, our “enemies,” and civilians at risk of death, or do we pull back, thereby allowing our “enemies” safety, growth, and time to devise a plan to attack us again? On the other hand, people who claim to believe in the golden rule, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” refuse to even listen to the idea of healthcare reform. They stand up at meetings, shouting down speakers who aim to explain.

The anger and frustration built for both scenarios are based on ideas. Americans heard lies that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and most believed it. Convinced their lives were in danger, they sent thousands of young people to their deaths. Now, the lives of just over 44 million Americans – a larger number than that potentially killed in any terrorist attack – are at risk because they don’t have insurance. And again, this machine of lies is at work. They are comparing President Obama to Hitler and propagating the myth of “death panels.” And, because laziness and complacency allow one or two like-minded “news” shows to seep into American’s consciousness, the protection of its own nation is at stake.

In one scenario we are willing to kill our own so a certain majority can live the way they want to live. Soldiers’ deaths are considered a reasonable sacrifice. The second scenario, to my mind, is the same. People are concerned their comfortable lifestyles will be destroyed by high taxes, the elderly and mentally disabled will be euthanized or aborted, and long, horrible lines will begin forming at doctors offices and hospitals, if the current Administration’s healthcare policies pass. Since almost 259 million Americans (85%) have healthcare, those 44 million without (only 25%) is a reasonable sacrifice for the greater majority to survive.

The thoughts in Mr. Dawkin’s book, which I just started, grapple with humanity’s protection of “it’s own.” Whether we protect our “own” based on tribes, race, ethnicity or nations, is up for debate. The possibilities are exciting. A reoccurring theme in the book, so far, is what is seemingly altruistic (dying in war for the greater good of a nation) is actually a selfish act by the genes, which are only trying to keep the species thriving. In the case of healthcare, one set of genes “believes” healthcare reform threatens their very fiber of being, and the other set of genes “believes” only by affording healthcare to the 44 million uninsured, we are strengthening America’s fiber, thereby enhancing the nation’s core.

Personally, being one of the 44 million uninsured, I hope this current “peace-time” appeal for Americans to make a small sacrifice to increase our standard of living as a nation is more effective than the misinformation distributed by “news” organizations who helped catapult America into a war based on lies.

The small sacrifice of healthcare reform, to my mind, is the more evolved choice. Time will tell which set of genes is fittest, and which falls victim to natural selection.

* Please note the personification of genes does not imply genes are conscious. It is, as Mr. Dawkins explains in his book, only a way to understand the actions genes take. Genes do not have brains. They just do what they do because they are.