Access to Genetic Technologies
As we saw in Chapter Four, the allure of genetic technologies will create high demand for them. People will want information about their genetic endowments so that they can make important life-style and reproductive decisions and so that they know whether to seek preventive or mitigative treatment for genetic disorders. They will seek gene therapy as the definitive preventive measure or treatment for many of these disorders. They will embrace genetic enhancements when they become available as a means of gaining socioeconomic advantage in their competitive environments.
Given the benefits that people will obtain from genetic technologies, will they be able to satisfy their demand? Certain conditions must be satisfied in order for someone to gain access to genetic technologies. At the outset, we will explore two of them: there must be an adequate supply, and people must be able to pay for them. Later, we will discuss a third prerequisite: that people are informed about the technologies and know to ask for them.
Society has encountered shortages of supply of medical services in the past. In some cases, the shortage has been due to technical problems that have limited the availability of the resource. A classic example is shortage of penicillin after it was first discovered. The new wonder drug was in short supply because of the slow growth rate of the penicillin mold and impurities in the production batches. The shortage produced some odd allocation policies; perhaps the most notable was the military's allocation of access to penicillin during the early stages of the Second World War.1 Since the goal of military medicine was to return soldiers to service as quickly and efficiently as possible, soldiers with venereal disease, rather than combat casualties, received the drug; the former could rejoin their units immediately, while the latter usually required additional medical care.2 This practice ended only when the manufacturing difficulties were solved and the drug began to be mass-produced.