Dr. Michael Greger has a second article about financial conflict of interest in medical research, and it is not good news. Almost all drug research is funded by drug companies. The financial bias is so pervasive that the New England Journal of Medicine says physicians can no longer rely on medical literature for valid and reliable information. Even evidence-based medical websites are not immune from financial conflicts of interest.
Disclosure of gifts to physicians from drug companies is now required by the Affordable Care Act, so patients can look up what gifts their physician gets by checking here. While disclosure is a good thing, it does not eliminate conflicts of interest. The next important step is to reduce or eliminate the influence of financial gain.
Money has not infested just medical research, it has completely inundated politics. Since the horrible decisions by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases, corporations and wealthy individuals can make unlimited donations to candidates and political committees. The absurd ideas that corporations are people and money is speech are grave threats to our democratic republic. Our nation is founded on the principle that each citizen has an equal voice in our government. We cherish free and fair elections and one person, one vote. Giving unlimited power to money and corporations undermines those cornerstones of our society.
Some would argue that an unregulated free market should control everything – everything should be governed by making as much profit as possible. Under that ethic, the recent unconscionable increase in price for Epipens from $57 to $600 would be considered just good business. The fact that the device is life saving for those with severe allergies would just be a marketing advantage. The same would be true for water, food and shelter in disaster areas. When people are desperate, it would just be an opportunity to maximize profit. An unfettered free market is not concerned with morality.
Our justice system has also been perverted. Although our U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits imprisoning someone for not being able to pay a fine (Bearden v Georgia, 1983), judges often still do that. Unpaid fines can escalate astronomically. A young man in California lost his drivers license for a DUI and chose not to drive for 15 years. When he applied for a license, he was told he had not paid a $300 fine, and the amount due was now $7,800. Arkansas judge Milas Hale recently jailed Lee Robertson for not paying court fines and fees of $3,054.51. Mr. Robertson started off owing about $200 to several stores in 2009. He was unable to pay the original amount because he was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer and was unable to work. Additional fines, interest and even charges by a private probation company continued to accumulate. Another person had been charged with bouncing a single check for $28.93. Since that time, she has been arrested at least seven times, jailed more than 25 days, and has paid the court more than $640.
The freedom to be innovative and entrepreneurial and to profit from our effort and ingenuity is the epitome of our capitalist system. But with that freedom can come greed and immoral behavior. We need reasonable regulations to constrain our basest human inclinations and encourage civilized behavior. When we idolize money and the accumulation of wealth without constraint, we end up with a callous society and heartless consequences.