Through A Narrow Chink: An Ethical Dilemma Essayby Pablo BaezChemistry 104Prof. HolmeIn 1951 Carl Djerassi, with the Mexican pharmaceutical company Syntex,developed the first oral contraceptive by synthesizing and altering the naturalhormone Progesterone into a superpotent, highly effective oral progestationalhormone called “norethindrone”.
Admittedly, the dynamics and importance of this find were astounding,since before this the only means of contraception was abortion, and even thatwas not legalized at the time. The race to produce this synthetic agent was highly competitive, beingsought after by many pharmaceuticals throughout the world, and for a smallfledgling company in Mexico of all places to find it first only added to theexcitement of the achievement. Yet aside from all this excitement and competitive fervor somethinggreat and disturbing was being bypassed. Science, in my view had done somethinggreat without looking into the possibilities of where this would lead. I believe Djerassi, similar to most scientists of his day, was soentranced by the excitement of synthesizing his product and achieving his goalthat he did not stop to think of the ramifications of his accomplishment.Order now
Theethical dilemma was not explored before hand, and this to me is the greattragedy of most scientific discovery, since I firmly believe each scientist isresponsible for that which he creates. Djerassi does confront a few questions of ethics and morality after thefact. On page 61, in chapter 6, he reflects on the argument of the use of poorMexican and Puertorrican women for preliminary experiments. Is this justanother manifestation of exploitation of the poor?Djerassi says absolutely not. Yes, the poor our the initial guinea pigs for research but this is nodifferent from what dentists, barbers, and young surgeons do.
All of thesegroups use the poor to hone their skills, not because of the poor women’signorance but because middle class, suburbanite, white women are unlikely tovolunteer their services for the sake of science. My main problem with this is that he claims they will not “volunteer”their services. Of course not, they are aware of the possible detrimentaleffects of such experimentation. This is obviously because they are probablymore highly educated the poor Hispanic women.
Poverty often precludes a lackof good schooling and education. Thus the awareness of such a group toscientific studies will most likely be much lower. They probably knew nothingof scientific research at all, let alone how to read a consent form that leavesthem without legal recourse. Djerassi mentions this as well, the idea that he can not offer themconsent forms because they can’t read. That seems preposterous to me!If he can not inform his patients of the possible side effects then whatchance do they have at justice if some carelessly administered drug causes themharm?Coming back to his original argument, he claimed suburbanites were notlikely to volunteer their services for the sake of scientific study, but I dareargue the poor women most likely did not volunteer but were asked. Did he askthe suburbanites? I highly doubt it was even proposed.
In chapter 9 Djerassi addresses another question he was often confrontedwith. “How do you feel about the social outcome of the work?”. He answeredthis with a shrug of his shoulders and a simple, “I couldn’t have changedthings”. Again, I am disturbed by the flippant manner of his response.
Yes, heacknowledged the impact the Pill had on the sexual revolution, but fails to seebeyond what has already occurred, claiming powerlessness against the pace ofscience. Let me say that he is most likely partially correct. There is verylittle to be done when science determines to do something and the race beginstoward that goal. But to claim oneself unable to have made a difference,especially someone of his intelligence and influence, is remarkably sad. I firmly believe that the direction of science, though difficult to stopor turn entirely, can be manipulated by those forefront scientists enough to atleast seek discovery with a certain social awareness.
This claim of powerlessness is a cop out, clear and simple, and noeuphemistic jargon or claim of ignorance will give the victims their normallives back. This has been the case in nuclear, medical, and chemical research. Invariably someone suffers due to the insincerity of others. Maybe I am being a bit harsh. Djerassi’s Pill did give women a great power,the power to control childbirth, as well as a greater freedom toward sexualitythat before this was monopolized by .