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An Avoidable Death

Updated on October 17, 2015
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I am a blogger and writer. I've been writing for around the past 15 years and live in India.

Richard Heck goes down

Richard Heck’s death in the Philippines was as dramatic as his work. Due to denial of medical assistance because of unpaid medical bills he was denied quality medical assistance at a private hospital which is really a tragedy. It also shows how corporatism has advanced to virtually all aspects of human life. Its relentless progress is such that it has divested us of normal human emotions where money is valued more than human life. For those of you who don’t know who he was, Richard Heck won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 2010.
Heck published his initial work in 1968 with improvements in 1972. The chemical process with other collaborators he came across in his pioneering work has become known as the Heck Reaction, a key to drug development and DNA sequencing. The Nobel Prize organization said in its citation that the ‘Heck Reaction’, “would transform modern organic chemistry.” It marked a significant milestone in treating cancer, AIDS, asthma, migraine headaches and other ilnesses. Various consumer, electronic and industrial products, ranging from sunscreens to computer monitors have benefitted from his work. Thomas Colacot, a chemistry specialist describes Heck’s pioneering work as "the reaction of the 21st century."
However his death shouldn’t surprise us nor should we dismiss it as having occured in some third world country or criticize him for having chosen to marry and settle in the Philippines. These are personal choices. The larger issue is that free market economics is ruining peoples lives. In the mad rush to get rich, values and empahy are given the go-by. Already we have the phenomenon of health tourism where people from rich countries visit the developing world for medical care because they can’t afford quality medical care in their own countries. Richard Heck’s story goes to show that even places people go seeking cheaper medical treatment might soon become or have become pricey. That’s apart from the fact that increasingly quality medical care is available only in private establishments in many developing world countries.
It might be tempting to condemn Richard Heck as having mismanaged his finances or have chosen a vocation where he was getting just $2,500 as a monthly pension. In any case his wife’s relatives say Heck lost his entire life's savings due to medical care and treatments. Be that as it may for a man who did so much for humanity nobody was around to do him a return favour.
Heck had a vocation and excelled at it but he was short changed by those who should have saved him in peril. It’s particularly ironic as he did pioneering work in cancer treatment among other things, which as we know is the number one killer disease nowadays.
The fact is that he was compelled to due to financial exigency to go to a government hospital. By the time he reached there he was dead. It’s really sad that market economics determined whether Heck lived or not and that it mightn’t be the panacea it’s made out to be. It certainly wasn’t for Richard Heck.

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© 2015 Siddhartha S Bhadrakumar


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