Right Thinking From The Left Coast
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. - Mario Andretti


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Coeur d’Leon

The Houston Chronicle has a story today about Dr. Bud Frazier, the doctor who put in my father’s artificial heart.  This part of the article really rang true to me.

The Methodist roots help explain an aversion to law and business as chosen professions. Both center, ultimately, on making money. Frazier says he has never sent a bill. He doesn’t know the fees for any of his procedures.

During much of his career, the real money has been in coronary artery bypass surgery, not implanting countless experimental cardiac devices into animals within the bowels of the Texas Heart Institute.

That’s not to say Frazier ignores finances, without which it would be impossible to bring life-saving, but costly, heart devices to market.

“Medicine has to work as a business,” Frazier says. “It’s like what St. Augustine said: ‘We try to live in the city of God, but we must live in the city of man.’ ”

When my dad went into the hospital for the final time he had been sick for 11 years.  During that time he had been able to only work sporadically, in between bouts of illness.  As such, when he went into the hospital he didn’t have any health insurance.  The doctors told us that Dad needed a heart transplant, but that other health issues made him not suitable to be a recipient of a donor heart.  He did, however, qualify for an experimental artificial heart program.  My mom said, “We don’t have any insurance.” Dr. Frazier responded, “I don’t care about your insurance.  We’re going to do everything we can.” And they did.

One day I was having a conversation with him, and he remarked on the fact that our family used to live in the UK.  He mentioned that in the past he had done heart transplants on British people whom their health service had deemed too sick to be healed.  These patients were affluent enough to where they could come to the US and pay out of pocket costs for a transplant.  “It’s a good thing you’re not in the UK right now,"Dr. Frazier said, “because they would have sent your father home to die.” This then evolved into a discussion of the importance of the profit motive for driving medical research. 

As I’ve said a thousand times, it wasn’t just the doctors and nurses who kept my father alive for almost three months, it was the venture capitalists who funded the research done by the engineers who developed the heart.  Venture capitalists can invest in any venture they like, and without a profit motive they will invest their dollars elsewhere.  One day the artificial heart will be a reality, and immediately the Michael Moores of the world will decry the “greed” of the evil corporations who now charge a fee for their product, without realizing (or caring) that over the last 30 years these corporate entities had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research without seeing so much as a penny in return.

The doctor is truly a great man.

Posted by Lee on 04/29/07 at 08:56 PM in Science and Technology • Permalink

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