A cancer patient was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday after allegedly "disrupting" the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in a protest aimed at maintaining access to affordable cancer medicines in the dozen countries, including the U.S. and Canada, that would be impacted by the colossal trade deal.
Video footage showed Zahara Heckscher—who was wearing a t-shirt that read "I Have Cancer. I Can't Wait Years" and holding a hospital drip pole that read "TPP: Don't Cut My IV"—being handcuffed and led away by police after she refused to leave an area within the Westin Hotel where trade ministers were holding the high-level and secretive talks.
Heckscher is part of a group of cancer patients and survivors who, alongside other healthcare advocates, have demanded the secret text of the TPP be released so they can verify that a final agreement would not include a "death sentence clause"—a proposal submitted by the U.S. delegation and included in earlier drafts that would see de facto monopolies on biological medicines extended for up to 8 years.
As she attempted to read a statement to gathered press in the hotel lobby, Heckscher refused to stop talking or leave the area:
According to Public Citizen, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has raised rounded objections to the TPP and similar deal, Heckscher has been treated by biologicals including trastuzumab (Hercepin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta). She is currently undergoing chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial, the group explained, and continues on denosumab (Xgeva) treatment as well.
"[This rule] represents the worst of secretive trade deals – a rule that has nothing to do with trade, but will lead to preventable suffering. You can put a suit and tie on this, but it still stinks." —Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
Speaking on her own behalf, Heckscher explained the protest by saying, "For thousands of women to die unnecessary of breast cancer because of the TPP is a horrible, cruel, premeditated, and avoidable catastrophe. The provisions being decided by TPP ministers today could allow drug monopolies on biologics for 8 years. Some of these medicines cost up to tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."
She continued, "When you have breast cancer today, you can’t wait 8 years or 7 years or 6 years for a treatment to become available or affordable. When you have cancer, even a one-year delay in affordable medicine can be a death sentence. That is why we call this proposed provision of the TPP a 'death sentence clause.' If it passes, thousands of women like me will die waiting."
As the talks in Atlanta continue, Public Citizen warns that the issue of pharmaceutical monopolies and biologics has been largely absent from the public debate over the TPP, but should serve as a serious warning for the corporate-fueled agenda being pushed by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and his negotiating team. According to the group:
The USTR has long pushed for increased marketing exclusivity periods for biologics – medical products derived from living organisms, including many new and forthcoming cancer treatments. Exclusivity means product monopolies, with no competition from generics or biosimilars; medicine prices in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars per person; and the rationing of treatment access. Marketing exclusivity is separate from and independent of patent protection, though the protections may overlap. The USTR has supported an eight-year minimum monopoly period, while a majority bloc of negotiating countries will not consider more than five years’ exclusivity.
"This is a cynical rebranding of a failed negotiating position," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines program. "It represents the worst of secretive trade deals – a rule that has nothing to do with trade, but will lead to preventable suffering. You can put a suit and tie on this, but it still stinks. Non-U.S. TPP negotiators and trade ministers should continue standing strong against this USTR demand, because, despite the spin, five plus three still equals eight."