Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Is Thalidomide "Good" or "Bad"?

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Is Thalidomide "Good" or "Bad"?

Article excerpt

IT WOULD BE CONVENIENT if all that stuff Out There could be classified simply as "good" or "bad." But reality doesn't work that way; people hold varied opinions on what's good or bad. Particularly difficult is an item which is good in some ways but very bad in others.

Take, for example, a drug called thalidomide. When it was introduced in the 1950s it was hailed as an excellent sedative and a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women. It had been tested on mice and other small animals, and was thought to have no side effects, even in overdose. It was used widely in Europe, but was never approved for the United States.

About that time an epidemic of birth defects appeared in Europe, with something like ten thousand babies born without arms or with other gross abnormalities. In the 1960s it was found that the deformities occurred in pregnant women who had taken thalidomide. The general reaction of horror caused doctors to discontinue any use of it.

Several years later, investigators found that thalidomide inhibits the body's production of something called tumor necrosis factor alpha, which itself poses a good/bad problem: it helped fight infections and malignant cells, but it elevated concentrations of protein in the blood, which brought on fever and weight loss. Later thalidomide was found to block the growth of new blood vessels, needed for the development of limbs in the fetus.

The net result of these investigations is that thalidomide fights, or may be useful against, leprosy, AIDS, certain diseases of the eyes, some cancers, tuberculosis, arthritis, ulcers and in heart transplant recovery.

All this leads to the key question: How do we get the "good" benefits of thalidomide while avoiding the "bad" aspects? The drug has continued to be manufactured in some countries, and deformed babies are occasionally born in some remote places. Despite the warnings on the bottle, some pregnant women inadvertently take the drug. Some people do not read, at least not English.

In any case, the damaged-baby experience has shown that drugs must be tested on animals more nearly like humans, not just on mice.

Mice Emotionally Disturbed Without Toys

Another problem with using mice for testing arises from the assumption that the findings would apply to humans in "psychological" as well as "physical" ways. Mice ordinarily are kept in small cages with no "toys" or interesting items to play with. …

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