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most unfortunate

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 14, 2009

Hey folks, do your acquaintances include any consequentialist Safe-Sin ethicians of the type who argue that the Church is proved wrong by AIDS infection rates in Africa? Well round them up to take a look at this BBC report on field-testing their moral theology:

A major trial of a vaginal microbicide has produced no evidence that its use reduces the risk of HIV infection in women.

The gel, PRO 2000, is intended for use before sexual intercourse to help reduce HIV infection.

It was tested in a trial involving 9,385 women in four African countries.

The risk of HIV infection was not significantly different among women supplied with the gel than in women given a placebo gel.

Got that? In order to gauge the effectiveness of the trial microbicide some of the "participants" were given a substance with no medicinal properties whatsover -- a placebo -- with the instruction to begin or resume sexual relations in a population with a notoriously high incidence of HIV infection.

To put it bluntly, the "lab rats" in this experiment were human beings with human hopes, loves, fears, responsibilities. Keep in mind that the participants necessarily had to be uninfected women at the outset of the trial. It is undeniable that the researchers wanted the women to be inseminated by men infected with a lethal disease agent. The trial would be pointless otherwise.

We are not told how the women in question were induced to comply (it is reported that they got "free condoms and access to counseling about safe sex"). It is all but certain that they were not truly brought to understand and accept 1) what a placebo actually is, 2) what each woman's chances of using an inert and useless substance were, 3) what the range of likelihood was for the trial medicine's being effective or ineffective. It is hard to imagine that 9,000 volunteers could have been assembled without some blurring of the truth.

Well, it turns out that the trial gel has no discernible effect in reducing the transmission of HIV. The reaction?

Lead researcher Dr Sheena McCormack, of the Medical Research Council, which part-funded the study, said: "This result is disheartening."

Bully for you, Doc. I trust the women in the study whose subsequent infection helped you draw your conclusion are equally stoic about the results. Let me go further: did you, Dr. McCormack, "field test" the gel with your own body in the same sub-Saharan circumstances? Did you ask your research colleagues or their wives and daughters to do so as well, for the sake of scientific progress? If, on the other hand, you were unwilling to put your own European middle class professional immune systems on the line, do you not feel a certain uneasiness at the "asymmetry of consequence" between your clinical discouragement and the discouragement of your, ahem, test population?
 

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Dec. 17, 2009 12:04 AM ET USA

    Envious? Heck, he'd brag that he invented those methods. Africa is suffering for our sins.

  • Posted by: rpp - Dec. 16, 2009 1:32 AM ET USA

    I am certain that Dr. Mengele would be envious at the methods used by this study.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Dec. 14, 2009 3:33 PM ET USA

    This is the most genuinely shocking thing I have read in months. I figured something had to be missing so I Googled the name of the study and followed links in it and found nothing to indicate that this interpretation is wrong. This makes the Tuskeegee experiment look positively ethical, not to mention the wonderful contributions Dr. Mengele made to science.

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