Nanotechnology medicine policy report disputed

The ETC Group has a new 63-page PDF report out titled “Nanotech Rx — Medical Applications of Nano-scale Technologies: What Impact on Marginalized Communities?” Although we at Foresight share ETC’s concern for these communities, we disagree with the report. A couple of excerpts:

Can OECD donors who have failed to deliver promised mosquito netting to malaria-stricken countries and who have managed to
provide only one condom per adult male per annum to combat HIV/AIDS in the global South really claim that hefty investment in new nanomedicines will pay off for poor countries?

Certainly it would be a good thing to deliver promised netting and condoms. However, both malaria and HIV are fundamentally nanoscale problems, and developing nanotech vaccines against these would be a very good thing indeed. Netting and condoms are macroscale attempts to solve nanoscale problems, and both depend on repeated use. Moreover, surely Pat Mooney (head of ETC and father of five) is aware that many men don’t like to use condoms, or so I’m told. I’ve seen it claimed, in articles on AIDS in Africa, that some men refuse to use condoms at all. Maybe we need a better solution. Why not a nanomedical one?

The report argues against a “medical model” of health:

In the medical model, the possible “cures” for a paraplegic who is a victim of discrimination and social injustice would be some kind of medical intervention – bionic legs instead of accessible buildings, for example.

Most of us know people who are disabled and have trouble getting around; I share a home with such a person. Even if we made every single building on the planet accessible, this wouldn’t solve the problem; these folks would also like to go to the beach and climb hills, maybe even mountains. What is so wrong with developing bionic legs for people who want to use them? I know that disability rights advocate Gregor Wolbring disagrees with me on this, but as far as I’m concerned, the views of my housemate carry just as much weight as his. (It might be fun to ask them to debate. The politically-correct community would be confused: he’s a white male opposing nanomedicine, she’s an African-American female in favor.)

I admire Pat’s caring, sincerity, energy, and his PR skills — I think it was Pat who named one of Monsanto’s patents as Terminator Technology, a label they weren’t able to shake. And while we share some interest areas — specifically concerns about possible flaws in the laws on intellectual property and corporate governance — we at Foresight must strongly disagree with ETC’s opposition to nanomedicine.

Yes, early nanomedical treatments are likely to be expensive, as are practically all new technologies. But the costs will come down over time. Think of the early adopters as guinea pigs testing the new methods and helping bring down the costs for others.

You may be wondering, who paid to produce this report? Funders of the Canada-based ETC Group are said to include the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, and Funders Working Group on the New Technologies. Are they reading what they’re funding? —Christine

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