Odds are their veterinarians will play a bigger role in saving your life-or the life of your sick child-than your own doctor. Veterinarians for pampered pets will soon be in the vanguard of human health care, and the reason is regulatory. Controversial restrictions on embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning effectively squelch efforts to bring these biotechnologies to bear on human therapies. The moral quandaries and bioethical concerns underlying these restrictions can't be dismissed. But the different standards we apply to animals create provocative loopholes for the innovative and opportunistic biomedical entrepreneur. …
Yes, many people understandably blink at the thought of spending $10,000 to save a cherished pet. But market forces reveal that there are tens of thousands of pet lovers who don't. All it would take is one Labrador-loving billionaire to create the veterinary counterpart to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-an enormously influential philanthropic funder of innovative biotech. …
The very effectiveness of veterinary biotech would subvert the regulatory and ethical underpinnings of human-research constraints. It's almost impossible to imagine society saying, "It's all right to use embryonic stem cells to save your dying dog, but it's not okay to use them to save your dying child." It's impossible to imagine a president or a senator or the CEO of an HMO asserting that a controversial biotech therapy that puts a cat's leukemia in remission must never be used to treat a sickly adolescent. Ain't gonna happen.
The conclusion? America's love affair with animals will slowly but inevitably undermine the religious, moral, and ethical arguments against genome-based therapies for people. Healthier cats and dogs will generate an irresistible demand for healthier children and adults. Wealthy pet lovers will be the essential instrument of innovation adoption that will drive the next generation of medical treatments. Tomorrow's biotechnical health-care challenge will literally be going to the dogs. I mean that in a good way. So should the medical community.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Veterinary medicine to lead the way
The cat cloning story (First pet clone is a cat) reminded me of a column (Medicine Goes to the Dogs) Michael Schrage wrote about a year ago. He makes the point that because we apply different moral and bioethical standards to animals than we do to ourselves, veterinary medicine is less constrained than human medicine, and is likely to advance faster. This will create tremendous pressure to allow human medical care catch up(!) to the care we provide for our pets.