I watched the episode of Frontline last night about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A couple of things jumped out at me, both reactions to Pfizer’s decision to stop doing R&D on antibiotics because (yep) they’re not as profitable as drugs for treating high cholesterol, which may or may not have anything to do with whether somebody is going to suffer a heart attack, and pills that allow late-middle aged men whose hearts may not be healthy enough for sexual activity to chase their wives around with four-hour erections (wives who, for the most part, were probably blissfully unaware that their husbands’ inability to get a hard-on was a problem).
The first statement was from a research scientist who said about the decision (I’m paraphrasing): “It’s not like it was evil. We live in a capitalistic society.” The second was from a Pfizer VP, who said (paraphrasing again), “It wasn’t a ruthless decision. I’m sure society would want us to still be doing what we do twenty years from now, and we have an obligation to our shareholders.”
Yes, because “society” surely wants you to keep making drugs of questionable utility so that your shareholders can continue to live off the proceeds of their investments while people are dying in droves from formerly treatable infections. But the first one is even better. I can just imagine the outrage from the flag-waving crowd if it was a Stalinist defending the gulag system because “we live in a communist society.” Or how about a 21st-century American defending the murder of children with killer remote control airplanes because “we live in a war-making society.”