Banting and Best’s Better Choice

Before we leave this July 27th in the rearview mirror, a brief note to commemorate the discovery of insulin on this day in 1921 by Dr. Frederick Banting, John James Macleod, Charles Best and and James Collip. I mention this largely since this has a personal dimension for me, with relatives suffering from the disease. Actually, what the scientists did was to isolate and extract insulin, which, as they rightly theorized, could then be used to treat diabetes. Prior to 1921, diabetics were under a long, slow death sentence, as they had no way to regulate their blood sugar, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas no longer functional. Now, with regular insulin injections (now produced genetically from bacteria) diabetics can live more-or-less normal lives.

Banting and Best were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1923, but they refused to patent the discovery, which could have made them very wealthy men, claiming that insulin should be available – affordable, and free if need be – to everyone who needs it.

Well, others seem not so altruistic, and insulin is now a billion-dollar business, partly due to insurance companies, and a host of other reasons. In Canada, it is not covered by MediCare, which doesn’t seem to care, either here or in the U.S. One report states that insulin prices have rise 1,123 percent in the last two decades, and I have heard anecdotes of diabetics on limited insurance plans and fixed income only giving themselves one-third a dose to ‘stretch’ out their allotment, an almost certain long-term self-euthanasia. Some few are getting rich off such desperation – to use a word of which Belloc was fond: Mamzers.

What was that about devouring the houses of widows and orphans? What about devouring widows and orphans themselves? What of the better choice of Banting and Best?