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Friday, 05 February 2016 06:37

Cancer Patients Arrested for Protesting TPP's Big Pharma-Favoring Provisions

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaacancer12On World Cancer Day, cancer patients and supporters protested the TPP stranglehold on life-saving medications at PhRMA heaequarters in Washington, DC. (Photo: Public Citizen)

This is where the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) gets personal, for many in the US: It poses a dire threat to those in need of exorbitantly priced life-saving medications.

The advocacy group Public Citizen has compiled a fact sheet of the near-monopoly privileges, price-setting rights and redresses granted to big pharmaceutical firms in the TPP. In large part, they were inserted into the TPP by their trade association, PhRMA. The Public Citizen list of powers granted to Big Pharma in the TPP includes:

  • [Requiring] every signatory country to ensure its domestic laws expand drug companies' monopoly powers, leading consumers and healthcare providers to pay higher prices on more drugs for longer - or go without needed treatment. TPP rules would require countries to enact and maintain laws that expand drug companies’ monopoly powers...

  • The TPP would require each signatory nation to include in its domestic laws granting of new 20-year patent monopoly for new uses of old medicines...

  • The TPP requires developing nations to transition to all of the same pro-monopolistic patent rules that apply to developed nations...

  • The TPP also would allow drug companies to privately enforce this public treaty by skirting US laws and courts to challenge federal, state and local decisions and policies on grounds not available in US law and do so before extrajudicial investor-state tribunals authorized to order payment of unlimited sums of taxpayer dollars...

The bottom line is that Big Pharma would be enabled to delay the development of generic drugs, set industry-imposed high pricing, hobble efforts in the US to reduce the Medicare Part D pricing that is a windfall to pharmaceutical firms, and financially constrain the ability of developing nations to treat serious diseases with less costly drugs. These are only some examples of the grievous concerns raised by the TPP's Big Pharma-favoring. 

Given that these TPP policies may be enacted in the near future if Congress approves the pact by the end of 2016, a protest was held in front of the PhRMA trade association headquarters in DC on February 4, World Cancer Day. According to a news release by Public Citizen:

On World Cancer Day, two cancer patients – supported by health professionals and public health advocates – were arrested as they engaged in civil disobedience to dramatize their life-and-death concerns about the expansion of medicine monopolies pushed by brand-name pharmaceutical companies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year old mother and author from Washington, D.C., who has been in treatment for aggressive breast cancer for seven years, and Hannah Lyon, a 29-year old from California who is in treatment for aggressive cervical cancer, linked arms and refused to leave the lobby of the office building that houses PhRMA, the trade association that has pushed for extreme monopolies in the TPP, while dozens of supporters chanted outside.

They loudly shouted that the TPP would be a “death sentence” for many cancer patients by keeping life-saving cancer medicines out of reach due to exorbitant monopoly pricing. They shouted until they were arrested by the D.C. police and charged with unlawful entry.

 aaaaaaaaaaaaaatppcancer23Zahara Heckscher and Hannah Lyon, being treated and taking medications for cancer, shouted that the adoption of TPP would be a "death sentence" as they were arrested. (Photo: Public Citizen)

Heckscher explained her personal passion behind the protest that led to her arrest:

The TPP will effectively take some patients backwards in time to the dark ages of cancer treatment. It will prevent too many people with cancer – and other life threatening illnesses – from accessing the new treatments they need to stay alive. One of my current medicines would cost me $118,000 per year if I were not in a clinical trial. PhRMA pushed for provisions in the TPP that, if passed, would lock in policies in the U.S. that keep medicine prices obscenely high.

In a statement, Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, emphasized that the TPP puts corporate bottom lines ahead of public health. He asserts that the trade agreement provisions are representative of the larger challenge of wealthy pharmaceutical firms buying favorable trade agreements and legislation in the US through campaign contributions and financial influence:

Pharmaceutical industry greed has reached heights never seen before. The price of medicines has nothing to do with the cost of making them – and virtually nothing to do with the cost of research and development. Big Pharma companies are price gouging simply because they can.

Drug prices are so high because there’s no competition, and because Big Pharma spent more than $1.2 billion on lobbying over the past five years and it employs an army of more than 1,400 registered lobbyists to keep it that way. As part of a comprehensive strategy to reform our broken system, we must fight Big Pharma’s scheme to win still more expanded monopoly protections through the TPP – an effort not just to impose high prices on other countries, but to block our reform agenda and maintain super-high prices in the United States indefinitely.

Zahara Heckscher and Hannah Lyon, as they engage in their own medical struggle, remind us that the TPP is not an abstraction. Indeed, in 2014, Buzzflash published a commentary concluding that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership would decrease access to affordable cancer treatment."

It sets another trade agreement precedent, perhaps the worst yet, for putting profits over the availability of medicine that can save lives.

Not to be reposted without the permission of Truthout.