If you follow the news — and I pity you if you do — you have already heard that post-menopausal women can supposedly cut their risk of dementia in half if they take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) immediately after the onset of the pause. But the findings are merely “observational,” so don’t go running off half-cocked.
Because four years ago, as the canny blamer will recall, HRT got the bum’s rush after links to breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease were discovered. A few months ago it was announced that the mass bagging of HRT had coincided with a decrease in breast cancer.
So which would you rather have: breast cancer or Alzheimer’s? Or, to put it another way, which drug company do you feel is most deserving of your dough?
I am unimpressed with the Hobson’s choicism of modern medicine. You can either do what they say, and eventually die, or ignore what they say, and eventually die. You can do what they say, and get struck by lightning, and immediately die. You can do what they say, and live a while longer, and suffer debilitating side effects from the “therapy,” and eventually die. You can ignore what they say, and live to be 96, and still die. You can do what they say, and live to be 96, and be disease-ridden and frail, and dependent on drugs, and left to rot in a home, and die. You can want to do what they say, but not be able to afford it, and die. You can afford to do what they say, but paternalistic government interference or the self-interest of a drug company prevents you , so you die sooner — or perhaps later, if the drug in question turns out to be a bit more toxic than was hoped — but dead you will be.
Note that there’s a constant. Medical science can’t deliver the only thing that would make it truly useful. And even if it could, unless the dominant culture were overthrown, or unless the cure for death turned out to be “eat more dirt,” hardly anybody would be able to afford it. There’d be a TV show called “Medications of the Rich and Immortal.”
Every morning, as I struggle to choke down the five $22-apiece Guam-sized snake oil pills that are supposedly decreasing my risk of cancer recurrence a point or two, I reflect on the crapshootiness and cosmic futility of the exercise.
So why do I bother? Well, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, there are chemical reactions taking place in my brain, which reactions produce what is commonly and romantically referred to as “the will to live” but which is perhaps more accurately described as “fear of death.”
A more irksome chemical reaction I cannot fathom.
1. I allude to the case of 4-year-old Penelope London (link is to subscription-only WSJ article. A post at bioethics.net discussing the article can be found here), who is dying of a rare form of cancer. Having exhausted the options, her wealthy father caught wind of an unproved experimental drug. He actually got the FDA to invoke the “compassionate use” clause to allow the Penelope to take the drug, which is no small feat in itself. But the drug company, Neotropix, said no dice, because even if the father was willing to cough up the enormous remuneration they required, if kid repaid their magnanimity by dying anyway, it would blow their chances for future successful marketing.