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Aging In America: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan On End-Of-Life Care
Health | June 25, 2013

Aging In America: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan On End-Of-Life Care

How do we curb out-of-control health care spending? Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist and prominent health speaker, puts forward a tongue-in-cheek solution to this problem. At a symposium in New York, he suggested that we suspend funding for new medical research. This thought-experiment was designed to highlight the ethical concerns surrounding the debate on quality of life versus cost, and to promote new ways of thinking about end-of-life care. Caplan took the debate to the extreme to showcase the problems we'll be facing in the future—and why we need to think critically about these issues today.

Caplan's proposal (albeit, one drafted for the purpose of debate) illustrates how difficult it has become to balance the longevity of life with the cost of doing so. "We have a society that can't say no," Caplan explains. We all want to help our loved ones to live longer and be more comfortable. But how we can continue to pay for that treatment as prices skyrocket and the aging population increases exponentially? Caplan cites preventative medicine and pharmaceutical drugs as two major concerns. Below are some of his thoughts on the issues as presented in two CNN opinion columns.

Preventative Medicine:

Angelina Jolie recently chose to have a preventative double mastectomy to prevent cancer. There are pros and cons associated with her decision. First off, the surgery decreases the chances that the patient will get cancer. Second, reconstructive surgery has vastly improved. On the other hand, the procedure is not 100 per cent effective in preventing cancer. Not only that, but not all insurance providers cover the elective surgery. "As the U.S. pushes forward into health reform," Caplan concludes, "Jolie's story reminds us that we need to adjust our health care system from one that pays for treatment to one that also covers prevention."

Generic Versus Name-Brand Pharmaceuticals:

In Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis, the main issue is whether companies that own prescription drug patents can pay other generic drug companies to not make cheaper versions of the same drug. This is a practice known as pay-for-delay. The court will potentially deliver a ruling this month. Caplan's take? "The right prescription for making medicines cheaper and better is to encourage competition, not stifle it with backroom deals where everyone gets a great deal except for the patients."
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