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Vol. 8 No. 3: September issue

Out of Compassion or Out of Rights? A Story about an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Human Clinical Trial

June 30, 2020


This article examines the intersection of compassion and rights, and how the two concepts are constituted and wielded in the context of human clinical trials. Doron, an ALS patient who was recruited to a clinical trial, believed that he had the right to post-trial treatment according to the wording of an informed consent form he signed before joining the trial. However, the biotech company sponsoring the trial instead offered him ‘compassionate use’ access, i.e., access at its discretion rather than as a legal obligation on its part. I argue that under a ‘bioeconomy of value’, the human clinical trial regime has been subordinated to two competing discourses: that of compassion and that of patients’ rights. Both are interpreted and deployed differently by the different stakeholders, namely the patient, the biotech company, and the medical establishment. I argue that the adoption, by bioeconomy actors, of a social value discourse of compassion is designed to preserve a hierarchy that deprives the patient of their power and their rights. Simultaneously, this practice highlights the power of the biotech industry as a moral partner and ‘saviour’ in its relationship with patient organisations and its role as a medical–scientific actor in the Israeli healthcare system.