In March of 2019, I began to have a very strange problem. I was breathing normally, but felt like I was suffocating. The problem became much worse when lying down, but seemed to come and go arbitrarily. Some days it would be really bad, and on others I didn’t even notice it. This happened twice in a week, and I checked with a doctor. He assured me I had anxiety and gave me a prescription for some anxiolytic medicine. I couldn’t breathe, and his solution was Xanax. I stupidly trusted him.
In May 2019, I ended up in the hospital. My body was turning yellow, and my liver, kidneys, and heart were failing. The cause was idiopathic; none of the 7 specialists knew why I was having congestive heart failure. A couple of drugs were tried, but in the end the only solution they said would save my life was the implantation of a mechanical device that would help my heart pump: a Ventricular Assist Device, or VAD.
I was lucky enough to be selected as a perfect candidate for a clinical trial, partially due to being particularly young for having Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). A new version of an already cutting-edge technology would be tested on my body, and the results would be recorded for their study. The machine they implanted was called the Heartmate 3, and it saved my life.
The VAD is currently used either as “bridge” or “destination” therapy, with “bridge” meaning that it is used only temporarily until one can get a heart transplant, and “destination” meaning that one is ineligible for transplant at all, and will have the VAD for the rest of one’s life. Some of the contraindications for VAD implantation being bridge therapy include being obese or over 65 years of age. Luckily, I am not either of those two, and therefore am eligible for a transplant. However, there are two factors that are going to lead to it likely being an extremely long time before a donor heart is available. One is that I am a larger man, standing at 6 feet tall, meaning I require a larger-than-average heart. The other is that I have Type O blood, which is the hardest from the standpoint of receiving an organ donation.
This puts me in a very interesting situation, where I am a young man who may have many years still ahead of him with an implanted device. It may be 7 years from now when I get the call for transplant, or it may be tomorrow. If it happens 7 years from now, there may be therapies that will have been developed that would allow me to regrow my heart, or clone one from my stem cells, and thereby avoid having to be on a cocktail of immunosuppressants indefinitely. Unfortunately, even Athersys only has CHF treatments in the preclinical stage, which means I may have to wait a while. I intensely wish those trials weren’t being constrained like they are.
Having set significant life extension towards the very top of my hierarchy of values, I am extremely grateful that I live in a society where these technologies are available to me. I have a highly personal interest in seeing a society of scientists and biomedical engineers emerge to help develop these technologies! However, part of my situation was just me getting lucky: I had the treatment I needed approved just months before receiving it, and happened to have top-notch insurance.
One unfortunate side effect of having a centralized regulatory system is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is only held responsible for what are known as “Type I Errors”. A Type I error is where the FDA passes an unsafe drug or treatment, leading to harm to an individual or group. Unfortunately, this means that FDA officials do not seem to care at all about “Type II Errors”, where they do not pass a life-saving treatment or drug in time to save someone’s life. The FDA is so terrified of having another Vioxx incident, that FDA officials are overly cautious in approving the use of radically innovative and breakthrough technologies. The fact that these technologies carry some risk is something of no worry to someone who is going to die if they don’t get the treatment. It is much harder to blame the FDA for being too safe than it is to blame them for being reckless.
This is why I am proud to be a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party (USTP), where science and technology are put at the forefront of American politics. The current bottleneck those like me with CHF face is regulatory hurdles. Article VI, Section VI, of the USTP Constitution states: “The United States Transhumanist Party upholds morphological freedom—the right to do with one’s physical attributes or intelligence whatever one wants so long as it does not directly harm others.” Right now what I and others with CHF would like to do is to get a stem-cell heart. We are being hindered not by direct legislation restricting morphological freedom, but by the far more pernicious hindrance of excessive regulatory burden. The treatments we want are being developed exponentially slower than they could be, because each step of the way has to adhere to draconian testing standards. This means a lot of Type II errors are being committed. We are not being told, “You cannot get this treatment.” Providers are being told, “You cannot provide this treatment.”
In my ideal world, regulatory agencies would work more like Underwriters Laboratories or Quality Assurance International. Leaving regulatory activity to the market, far from the fearmongering of producing dangerous and shoddy drugs and treatments, would instead invigorate the institutions as they would compete to certify the best products and treatments for consumers, since their names and reputations would be on the line.
I believe there needs to be a much stronger focus in regulatory institutions toward the elimination of Type II Errors, because there are a lot of sick people going untreated.
Zach Richardson is the Director of Publication for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. He is a Certified Supply Chain Professional and small-business co-owner who produced respirator-style masks to help stem the tide of COVID-19’s spread.