Through A Narrow Chink: An Ethical Dilemma
by Pablo Baez
In 1951 Carl Djerassi, with the Mexican pharmaceutical company Syntex, developed the first oral contraceptive by synthesizing and altering the natural hormone Progesterone into a superpotent, highly effective oral progestational hormone called 'norethindrone'.
Admittedly, the dynamics and importance of this find were astounding, since before this the only means of contraception was abortion, and even that was not legalized at the time.
The race to produce this synthetic agent was highly competitive, being sought after by many pharmaceuticals throughout the world, and for a small fledgling company in Mexico of all places to find it first only added to the excitement of the achievement.
Yet aside from all this excitement and competitive fervor something great and disturbing was being bypassed. Science, in my view had done something great without looking into the possibilities of where this would lead.
I believe Djerassi, similar to most scientists of his day, was so entranced by the excitement of synthesizing his product and achieving his goal that he did not stop to think of the ramifications of his accomplishment. The ethical dilemma was not explored before hand, and this to me is the great tragedy of most scientific discovery, since I firmly believe each scientist is responsible for that which he creates.
Djerassi does confront a few questions of ethics and morality after the fact.
On page 61, in chapter 6, he reflects on the argument of the use of poor Mexican and Puertorrican women for preliminary experiments. Is this just another manifestation of exploitation of the poor?
Djerassi says absolutely not.
Yes, the poor our the initial guinea pigs for research but this is no different from what dentists, barbers, and young surgeons do. All of these groups...