Male birth control is already here. Guess who’s blocking it?

May 2, 2017 Originally published on SFGate

All your suspicions are probably correct. All your most depressing hunches about capitalism’s true nature usually prove, in many cases, all too true.

Shall we sum it up, one more time? It goes something like this:

Just because a brilliant, relatively simple invention would save lives, shift the global paradigm, upend the lopsided, hugely unfair gender/procreation dynamic, help curb global overpopulation and diminish multiple, long-standing cultural and religious stigmas, doesn’t mean capitalism can let it happen.

Why? You already know why.

Take, for one fine and telling example: birth control for men.

Have you heard? It’s done. It’s ready. It’s safe, it works, it’s simple and easy and extremely affordable and it was invented in rural India by a maverick, 76-year-old biomedical engineer named Sujoy Guha at a tiny, scruffy biomedical startup, because all the big pharma monoliths across the planet have worked very hard to block, halt, stall, balk at researching it for themselves.

It’s a tremendous threat, you see, to their female-contraception profits. And, as we are all reminded nearly every single day, capitalism’s No. 1 rule is forever inviolable: No one and nothing – not childbirth, not disease, not the environment, not human health or love or humanitarian progress – nothing f—ks with the bottom line.

Behold, the sad-but-still-hopeful tale of RISUG, (“reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance”), as reported by Bloomberg (though Wired reported on it as far back as 2011). RISUG is a gel that, once injected into a man’s scrotum in a simple, one-time, 15-minute outpatient procedure, stays put for years and knock’s out sperm’s viability, until another simple injection reverses it.

It really does appear to be just that simple, just that inspired. And the story of Guha’s invention is one full of bravery and smarts, scrappy industriousness and genuine concern for the fate of humanity.

$3 billion a year in profits, and everyone hates them. RISUG could change everything

Not that you’d know it in the West. Despite RISUG’s obvious, world-altering potential to completely upend the way we think about contraception, population control and who can now take responsibility for what, no major U.S. pharma will go near it.

Not because it’s dangerous. Not because it’s untested. Not because it would require relatively little in the way of further clinical trials in U.S. to get it approved. And not only because all U.S. pharma companies are run by rich, middle-aged white guys who are so monstrously limited in imagination, so entirely lacking in, well, balls, they all collectively freak out at the idea of trying to market what amounts to a tiny, one-time needle-shot into their precious man-bits.

(Though let us not underestimate the whiny-frat-bro reaction to needles and penises; men generally remain gargantuan wimps, especially compared to what women regularly undergo in the birth control/childbirth/abortion arenas).

Problem is, unlike the Pill, RISUG isn’t something you take every day. It’s not millions of women paying anywhere from $20 to $50 a month, for years and decades. Nor is it part of the $3 billion/year disposable condom industry. It’s a one-shot thing, works indefinitely, costs almost nothing (as low as $10 in developing countries, where it’s most needed). This is why capitalism hates it.

Make no mistake: The Pill is, let’s enthusiastically admit, a miracle invention. Changed the world, empowered women, shifted the paradigm. It’s also a massive profit center for Bayer, Merck, Pfizer. What, you think they’re in it for the social good? To improve lives? That’s just the marketing brochure. A RISUG revolution would displease the demons of capitalism greatly.

By the way? This is also how the dark rumors start. This is the kind of story that makes otherwise reasonable people spin out into nefarious conspiracy theories about the inherent greed of corporations and their obvious willingness let people die, women suffer, children sicken, rivers pollute, cultures implode in the name of shameless, cold-hearted profiteering. Right, Koch brothers?

Many people believe, for example, that we already have a relatively simple, inexpensive cure for cancer, one that big pharma and for-profit hospitals have, for years, colluded to bury and delegitimize.

It requires a tragic level of moral fatalism to believe it, but it’s also not difficult to understand: From surgery to radiation, chemotherapy to clinics, pills to painkillers, cancer is monstrously big business. (Maybe China will help)?

You merely have to witness the billions pharmaceutical companies (and for-profit hospitals) continue to rake in on the opioid epidemic, a horrific problem that big pharma itself created, and continues to promulgate, despite all those reports of devastated communities and ruined lives. And it’s only getting worse. You cannot help but ask: What else are they capable of?

But maybe it’s a bit unfair to single out pharma. After all, from industrialized food to auto manufacturing to high tech, few corporations are innocent of valuing profits and shareholder dividend over the public good. Money is what they do, after all, often at the expense of, well, everything else.

And let us not forget Trump’s GOP, quite easily the most vicious, heartless gang of white male cretins of them all, willing to yank health care from millions, decimate public education, piss on the environment, savage women’s rights, eliminate support for the poor, rip apart immigrant families, on and on, all in the name of capitalism’s only true gods: power and money. (BTW: Trump’s top pick to run the FDA? Big fan of opioid-industry cash. Shocking).

Here’s a naïve pipe dream: Wouldn’t it be curious if the Googles or Facebooks or VC titans of the world were to, say, redirect a few billion from inventing a new “smart” toothbrush or pizza-delivery drone, over to launching a rogue company to buy the patent for RISUG, and make it easily, even freely available? Or donate to the Parsemus Foundation in Berkeley, the lone U.S. non-profit trying to make RISUG widely available? Is revolution really possible? Shall we launch a Kickstarter?

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Mark Morford

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