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Gambling on human life

Published: Aug 07, 2013

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We beseech the Bahamian public to consider the understated ramifications of the proposed Stem Cell Research and Therapy Bill.  We are alarmed at the government’s desire to expedite and facilitate unproven medical research; and even more so, to allow for human ‘treatment’ for profit.  For a country that is ill equipped to provide basic medical services in the Family Islands, the government is foolhardy to allow such exploitation of our fledgling medical industry.

Medical tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry.  By merely entering the market, it is said that The Bahamas is poised to reap financial benefits.  It is estimated that stem cell treatment could inject more than $100 million into the Bahamian economy.

In fact, the entire discussion in the public domain by both the government and interested physicians has centered solely on the lucrative ‘money’ to be made by providing stem cell treatments to high-risk patients which have not been adequately tested for safety and effectiveness.  Not a word has been mentioned about the well-being of the patient.  Such emphasis on financial gain rather than patient welfare has not gone unnoticed.

Prime Minister Perry Christie tabled the Stem Cell Research and Therapy Bill with draft regulations in April.  In June he expressed with near certainty that the bill and regulations would pass quickly.  He said: “Before we break for the summer we will move and pass stem cell legislation, which has already attracted major investments to The Bahamas.”

Clearly motivated by investors, the prime minister has underestimated the controversy of actual for-profit stem cell patient treatment.  However, we do appreciate this government’s decision to establish a legal framework with regulations prior to granting full approval for proposed stem cell centers.  Yet, we remain ardently opposed to them.

Even Christie recognizes the danger of exploitation.  In April he said: “We recognize that it is critical to have in place a system to approve and monitor stem cell research and therapy to protect our reputation, guard against rogue scientists and scandals, ensure the safety of patients in The Bahamas, and assure our people that all stem cell research and therapy will be conducted in accordance with our own ethical values following international best practices.”

But just what are those international best practices?  Adult stem cell patient treatment is illegal in the United States.  As a high-risk biologic product, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates a rigorous systematic and government-regulated review process to determine the safety and efficacy of a product or procedure.  The FDA recognizes that stem cell therapy is not at the stage of development to safely administer to end-of-life patients.  Even Japan has only just approved clinical trials for stem cell treatment aimed at age-related macular degeneration that causes blindness in older people.

Yet, somehow, The Bahamas, a country with a recognized undereducated workforce and deficiency of doctors, thinks that it can sufficiently regulate stem cell research and treatment on vital body parts such as the heart and spine?  For all the proposed schemes to increase revenue, treating high-risk patients with an unproven method is beyond ridiculous.  It is dangerous.

Not only does a physical danger exist, the psychological toll on a desperate patient willing to spend thousands of dollars for an alleged miracle cure can be devastating if it fails.  By allowing patient treatment, the Bahamian government acquiesces to the exploitation of the sick and desperate for profit under the guise of regulated research.

While the regulations are admirable, who in The Bahamas is qualified to monitor these adult stem cell centers?  Without an international monitoring agency, how will The Bahamas enforce the ban on the use of embryonic stem cells?

And why are we courting for-profit patient treatment centers with no affiliation with recognized research universities?  Surely, university partnerships would enhance the legitimacy of offshore medical facilities.  Research endeavors require millions of dollars and subsequent publication in a reputable medical journal to prove legitimate results versus flawed or purposely skewed results.

We forget that The Bahamas is a haven for unscrupulous individuals who use our no-income tax policy and poor extradition record as a refuge.  We vote against web shop gambling only to have it proliferate unabated.  So why should we expect stem cell treatment to proceed legitimately?  Only here the ramifications are life or death.  Are we prepared to gamble on a human life?

Inevitably, such dabbling on the fringe of medical ethics will surely tarnish the reputation of The Bahamas and its brand.

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