On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk made history. He had created a vaccine for the devastating polio epidemic, a disease which had taken hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. However, what makes his story so inspirational is the genuine goodness and will to help humanity which motivated the discovery. When asked about the patent, Salk famously replied “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” This declaration was the greatest indication of the selflessness with which he approached his work. He felt that a cure should be available to all those who had need of it, regardless of their financial ability.
Medicine has long been regarded as a noble profession, an altruistic devotion to the healing of people and the betterment humanity. Unfortunately, this conception is often contrary to that of reality. We are increasingly seeing people go into medicine and medical research not because their life ambition is to help people, but rather for the job stability, the status and most importantly, the money.
Patents have now become an opportunity for young researchers to make excessive royalties off their drugs, and have actually inhibited the search for cures of various diseases. So great is the perceived threat to medical research that a group of American doctors and scientists have issued a protest saying: “The use of patents or exorbitant licensing fees to prevent physicians and clinical laboratories from performing genetic tests limits access to medical care, jeopardizes the quality of medical care, and unreasonably raises its cost.” Once a patent has been issued on a drug or discovery, scientists must pay outrageous licensing fees in order to do further research in the given area, thus preventing the development of cures due to lack of funding. Instead of eliminating ailments that have devastating effects on people, the medical system is pushing drugs that prolong life with a respective disease, while making pharmaceutical companies and researchers rich.
Gone seem to be the days of Dr. Frederick Banting, where researchers set out to find a way to help people; instead of looking for the big discovery and the subsequent early retirement, funded through a lifetime of royalties. Banting saved the lives of millions of people from the death sentence that was diabetes. Much like Dr. Salk, Banting did not patent insulin, believing that it should be available to all those who had need of it. These individuals are real heroes, people that devoted their lives to be of service to humanity, by defeating the diseases which plagued the world.