Medical Research Must Not Sacrifice Ethics for Profit, Says Pope

Laments Lack of Medicines for the World´s Poor

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 12, 2002 ( John Paul II warned against the risk of research that is based solely on economic interests to the detriment of the dignity of the human person.

The Pontiff raised the sign of alarm in a letter sent to an international conference, held last week in Warsaw, Poland, on the «Conflict of Interest and its Significance in Science and Medicine.» The Vatican Press Office published the text of the letter Thursday.

The Bishop of Rome described the conflict thus: «While it is certainly proper for a firm in the field of biomedical or pharmaceutical research to seek an appropriate return on investment, it sometimes happens that overriding financial interests prompt decisions and products that are contrary to truly human values and to the demands of justice, demands which cannot be separated from the very aim of research.»

«As a result, a conflict can arise between economic interests on the one hand and, on the other, medicine and health care. Research in this field must be pursued for the good of all, including those without means,» the Pope continued.

Otherwise «there is a risk that science-based businesses and health care structures can be set up not in order to provide the best possible care for people in accordance with their human dignity, but in order to maximize profits and increase business, with a predictable lowering in the quality of service for those unable to pay,» John Paul II stated.

The Holy Father proceeded to list the conflicts of interest being experienced by medical and pharmaceutical research.

«First of all, it can be seen in the selection of research programs, where those programs which hold out the promise of a quick profit are often preferred to other research which involves higher costs and a greater investment of time because it respects the demands of ethics and justice,» he wrote.

The Holy Father continued: «Driven by the pursuit of profit and catering to what could be called ´the medicine of desires,´ the pharmaceutical industry has favored research which has already placed on the world market products contrary to the moral good, including products which are not respectful of procreation and even suppress human life already conceived.»

He then noted: «The recent decision in some countries to use human embryos or even to produce or clone them in order to harvest stem-cells for therapeutic purposes has the backing of large investors.»

«Yet ethically acceptable and scientifically valid programs using adult cells for the same therapies, with no less success, draws little support because lower profits are anticipated,» the Pope said.

«In developed countries, for instance, huge sums are spent on producing medicines that serve hedonistic purposes, or in marketing different brands of already available and equally effective medicines; while in poorer areas of the world drugs are not available for the treatment of devastating and deadly diseases,» John Paul II lamented.

«In these countries access to even the most basic medicines is almost impossible because the profit motive is absent,» he added.

Moreover, for «certain uncommon diseases the industry offers no financial support for research and the production of medicines, because there is no prospect of profits: these are the so-called ´orphan drugs,´» the Pope explained.

«The list of such conflicts will undoubtedly expand, if a utilitarian approach is allowed to prevail over the genuine quest for knowledge,» John Paul II warned.

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