The Case of the High Tech Tigers

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 25, 2003 12:25 AM

The Case of the High Tech Tigers

By Michael Josephs


People involved with Equitable Life take themselves too seriously.  Other people have their troubles as well, and we would do well to think about such people from time to time.  Here is a sad story about such a group of people, which should take your minds off ELAS and its questionable history.


Not so long ago, when molecular biology was really new, and the researchers were still trying to work out how genes made vital proteins and so forth, some medics hit on the idea of keeping people young by injecting them with DNA cultured from the top Hollywood stars – you know, the ones who seem to go on forever.


As a scheme it had everything going for it, glamour, high-tech, royalties for the stars, ‘eternal’ youth and really big fees for the ongoing treatments.  Half of Harley Street signed up at the first road-show despite the swingeing subscriptions and extortionate franchise fees.


Actually, there were half a dozen different franchises, each peddling a slightly different version of the treatments, but the one that got all the publicity had incorporated a further inspired advance: -- they used radioactive DNA, so that it would delete the patient’s own DNA and produce results that were faster and more effective.  All the medical correspondents on press and TV were ecstatic about it, perhaps because they were being offered a free course of treatment if enough readers signed up.


Naturally, people like you and me didn’t get a look in, the treatments were way out of our league, and our private health insurance wouldn’t pay for them either.  A lot of people were sore about that at the time, but they went a bit quiet about it later on for reasons which I will explain.


Anyway, that didn’t matter because all the really important people in the country, by which I mean politicians, business moguls, footballers, pop stars, transvestite dress designers and senior civil servants, flocked to receive the new treatments.  And they worked!  Everyone remarked how young Maggie looked, how the TV presenters literally glowed (in the dark , actually), how much (nuclear) energy the politicians seemed to have, so that they could keep multiple mistresses and still do their onerous and self sacrificing jobs.


Of course, from the medical point of view this was more than a business, it was a serious and professional effort to advance the frontiers of human knowledge while doing everything to protect the welfare of the patients.  Since there was a modicum of innovation involved, nothing to worry anyone of course, the leaders of this essentially charitable affair diverted 1% of their first Billion in profits to found a learned society The Institute for Gene Extraction and Replacement, known within the trade as The Tigers.


Now the next bit of the story is not widely known and could be a bit upsetting to those of tender disposition (or with a footballer in the family), but I have to mention it because it is actually quite important.  You see, in all the creative excitement generated by the prospects of all that money, and the scientific discoveries as well (naturally, scarcely needs saying), someone forgot that there should be preliminary tests on animals.  You know how it is, a natural mistake, everyone thought that someone else had done it. [No madam, I don’t care if you are a member of the South Essex bunny club, animal testing is necessary, when such important people are involved!]


Now obviously, all the practitioners were too busy giving the treatments to spend much time at The Tigers, so they hired in a bunch of medical nerds, you know those sad people who don’t even realise that medicine is a business, to do the necessaries like organising dinners and conferences and publishing a totally unintelligible journal.  One of the nerds had worked in a similar set-up, and before the Council knew what was happening, he had a compulsory reporting system up and running, focussing on what the trade calls ‘negative outcomes of treatment’.  In lay terms, that translates into ‘death or permanent disablement’, but that just shows how little the layman actually understands about the practice of medicine.


Now there had been the odd rumour floating around about unexpected reactions and possible DNA incompatibilities, but no one took any real notice until the first draft of the negative outcomes report [the NOR] arrived from the aforesaid nerds.  Fortunately Doc ‘Shafter’ Schaeffer, the fastest man with a hypo in the business, was in the chair when it arrived and he realised that extreme measures were needed.


Using his political connections (those that were still alive) he had the report and its contents declared a State Secret, because of the potential harm to UK exports if the news got out.  The nerds were delighted to be connected with something so important, and immediately encrypted all the files so that neither they nor anyone else could make head or tail of them.


You see, what the NOR showed, was that a small proportion of people are absolutely antagonistic to anything to do with the glamour industries, and these people were popping their clogs after the first few Tiger treatments.  Now it was a matter of intense regret that such people had passed the selection tests, and the Tigers insisted on proper retribution for all such mis-selection cases.  The discipline applied was perhaps over-harsh, involving as it did, a full return of fees, but it saved a lot of hassle from the relatives of the departed.


It subsequently turned out that the treatments also selectively destroyed parts of the immune system, particularly those protecting the subjects against influenza and measles, but since there hadn’t been a serious influenza epidemic for a good ten years this was deemed to be statistically unlikely to matter.


Of course, you won’t have heard of any of this, because MI6 ‘took out’ anyone who even looked as if they were going to reveal the State Secrets in question, and the matter was very satisfactorily controlled for some years subsequently, to the greater good of (nearly) all of us.


There was just one fly in the ointment, though it was more like a nest of angry hornets than a single fly: because the NOR was buried so far out of sight, they missed the fact that the most popular treatment, R-DNA-R (radioactive DNA replacement) had some slight additional drawbacks.  The main complication was that it progressively and irreversibly destroyed the bone marrow which is the body’s factory for new blood, so that patients, while apparently in the best of health were getting more and more anaemic.


After a few notable personalities dropped dead with no blood in them at all, (explained away as a side effect of Ecstasy addiction) the R-DNA-R practitioners realised what was happening and convened a secret medical moot to come up with a solution.  Most of the Tigers argued for stopping the R-DNA-R treatments completely, as they would be bound to kill the patients eventually. Naturally, the R-DNA-R crowd refused as it would kill a thriving business, and they could rely on MI6 to keep the lid on the situation by any necessary means.


Instead, they came up with a superb and creative solution.  They told all their new patients that they would need a bit of their blood for a short time, but it would all be replaced later in the treatment, with a bonus supply in case of any need.  Then they transferred this blood to old patients who could no longer make enough of their own.  The truly inspired part of this strategy was that they actually told the patients what they were doing, but in such a jargon-ridden unintelligible way that not one in a thousand suspected anything.  They were past masters at the Trust me, I’m your doctor act.


Of course, it all had to end in tears eventually, because, like a pyramid scheme it needed more and more new patients to supply the blood to the old ones, and one day there were simply no more candidates, even though the fees had been cut time and again to increase the numbers.  Of course, the really important people were tipped off early and got out while they still had some bone marrow left, but most of the rest were given the choice between dying straightaway, or by inches.


Even MI6 couldn’t hide the level of fatalities that ensued in parliament and the entertainment industry, but the preservation of public confidence in the medical profession made it imperative to conceal the true cause of the plague.  Hence the ‘discovery’ of Al Queida and its use of biological weapons against the leading echelons of western society.  When the true story is told in future generations, MI6 and the CIA will surely get the credit they deserve for this magnificent invention.


The trashing of Afghanistan and Iraq was also a small price to pay for the survival of our medical and pharmaceutical industries.  However, in the whole process there were naturally a lot of insider arguments (mostly about division of profits it must be said), and word leaked out that people would have been dying, even without Al Queida’s help.  Now this is where I need your input:


How do I explain to these people or their bereaved relatives that they are heroes in the advance of medical knowledge, and that they volunteered for the treatment despite knowing the risks,  and that there is absolutely no way in which their deaths can be held to be due to criminal negligence, manslaughter or even murder??


Answers on a postcard please to:


MD, DM, F-IGER etc etc

Council Chair

The Institute for Gene Extraction and Replacement [TIGER]