Bio-colonialism and the irony of western medicine

If y’all haven’t read a book by Harriet Washington you need to go to Barnes & Noble or get on Amazon and buy one NOW. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation of Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present is a must read and her newest book, Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life itself—And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future, is being purchased as we speak.

She did an interview on Democracy Now that talks about specific elements of her new book, mostly about gene patenting. Doctors, hospitals, and corporations can utilize parts of your tissues to harvest genes and gene (cell) lines for medical research. There is a HUGE market for cell lines (Henrietta Lacks) and genes, and the patients they come from have almost always been un(mis)informed of what was being done with their tissues, and find themselves unable to sue the hospitals as the courts side with the efficiency of medical “advances.”

The whole concept is mind boggling, being able to patent a living thing. The court case that opened that door only wanted to patent a living thing (bacteria in this case) for the purposes of cleaning up oil spills, not for neo-colonialist medical experimentation. Worse than the fact that people have no control over their genes being patented and exploited for the monetary benefit of corporations is the fact that when a gene is patented, that means that only the patent holders can do research on that gene. Thus, no other researchers in this country can work with that gene (say for example an isolated gene that targets breast cancer) to make any further discoveries than the one patent holder.

Clearly, this isn’t about medical advances, just more greed and capitalism.

What was TOO ironic in the discussion in this interview has to do with natural medicine v. western medicine. Western medical doctors LOVE to tell indigenous people that they’re medicines are bullshit, quackery, voodoo, witchcraft, etc. and thus no one should be using herbal/plant based remedies or engage in alternative healing practices but should go to the doctor and get a prescription, because those prescriptions have a scientific base. Washington devotes a portion of her new book to talk about how American doctors go around the world to indigenous populations and local healers to learn their techniques, their plant based remedies, and what do they do?? Guess! These assholes, take that shit back to the US and then PATENT IT!

R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S! How are you going to go to another country, steal their medical practices, come back, patent it, extract the chemical properties, turn it into a pill, charge thousands of dollars for it as the newest “scientific” treatment, and then turn around and insult the very people you got this treatment from by calling them crazy and unqualified to treat people. WORSE–tell them that you now own the plant they were using to treat people in their communities, so they can no longer do what they’ve been doing for CENTURIES because some American or multinational corporation now owns the patent to a gene for a plant that DOESN’T EVEN GROW IN THE UNITED STATES!

This is all too mind numbing. It’s despicable, it’s criminal, and too many people are totally unaware of what is going on. Most of the people who’s gene lines are being used for profit are low-income and minorities, or they’re vulnerable populations abroad that have little access to medical care, and while American doctors are going over their to “help” them, they’re collecting genetic material to take back and harvest (WITHOUT INFORMED CONSENT) to then make a profit off of.

Please read these books. Please stay informed. Please read the forms you sign when you go to the hospital and if you’re not sure what they mean, take them to a lawyer. Our bodies are not to be farmed, and no scientist should be able to say that just because they figured out how a gene works (a gene from YOUR body), that they should be able to own it and have exclusive rights to study it, and profit off of those results.

bio-colonialism and the irony of western medicine