Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Cost of a Cure

The Times has an interesting article about Avastin, a colon cancer drug for which its maker Genetech plans to charge $100,000 a year. That steep price tag raises a number of questions, most notably a suite of difficult ones suggested by the conundrum of a drug that is potentially both life-saving and bankrupting.

It's not difficult for me to imagine that there are some colon cancer sufferers out there who wish that Avastin, with its astronomical price tag, simply didn't exist. I think there is mentality, especially among certain segments of our society, that while government agencies and insurance companies may place a dollar value on a life, no amount should be too much when it comes to saving the life of a friend or a loved one.
Well that philosophy is certainly being put to the test. How do individuals handle the presence of life-saving drugs that they simply can't (or won't) pay for because to do so would be financially crippling for themselves or for their family? How does a doctor tell a patient that a treatment that might save her life is too expensive? And is anything going to stop the rising cost of some of these drugs? Will it require some form of regulatory intervention?

Finally, an out of left field question for general consideration: Do we feel differently about the cancer patient who refuses a life-saving treatment for economic reasons than we do about the cancer patient who desires euthanasia to avoid being a financial burden on her family? If so, why?


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