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Don't Let Abstractions Rule … or Kill

In A Soldier of the Great War, novelist Mark Helprin writes that

People throw around abstractions very carelessly because they don’t have to live them, and then the abstractions take over their lives.

I was reminded of this important insight yesterday as I listened to news reports about BiDil, a drug shown by tests to dramatically decrease African-Americans’ risk of dying from heart disease.  There’s no evidence that BiDil has similar positive effects for non-blacks.  (See also this story.)

Apparently, FDA approval is close on the horizon.

But some people are haunted by an abstraction.  If BiDil is approved and marketed especially to blacks, the hideous head of racism might rear up. 

Hamline University law professor Jonathan Kahn worries that with approval of BiDil “you have the federal government giving its imprimatur, its stamp of approval, to using race as a biological category.  To my mind, it’s the road to hell being paved with good intentions.”

Assuming that the tests of BiDil were conducted properly and the results interpreted correctly, it would be pitiless to deny blacks knowledge of, and access to, this life-saving drug merely because of an abstract concern about how BiDil and its marketing might affect racism.  All sorts of things are imaginable and even possible.  But if this drug can save real lives, sound ethical principles counsel that we not let abstract possibilities block this life-saving.


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