A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

Compiled by Larry B. Stammer, Times religion writer

Today's question: AIDS researchers now say that the deadly disease can be managed like a chronic case of diabetes with a combination of expensive drugs. But with annual drug costs of $16,000, some fear that only the rich and insured will have access to them. Does the government, and/or insurance and pharmaceutical companies have a moral responsibility to make the drugs available to those who cannot afford them?

Prof. Elliot Dorff

Rector and professor of philosophy, University of Judaism, Los Angeles, sits on ethics committees at UCLA Medical Center and Jewish Homes for the Aged

We rightfully applaud the new advance in AIDS research and hope that it helps many victims of the disease. It is one thing to recognize something as desirable, though, and another to demonstrate that some party has a moral obligation to provide it. Government must balance the benefits of subsidizing the new AIDS therapy against all of the other worthy demands on its resources, including other health care costs. Drug and insurance companies have a right to make a reasonable profit and do not have the moral responsibility to ensure that everyone gets every benefit. Our best defense against AIDS remains preventing the disease in the first place through educating youngsters and adults about sex and drugs. We thereby avoid both the cost of the new drug therapy and the dehumanization of the disease.

Sharon Presley

Executive director, Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland

As long as the government continues to confiscate a significant portion of our livelihoods through taxation, it has an obligation to spend the money in ways that enhance life, rather than promote death. Congress is passing another massive military spending bill, including an $11-billion increase. The Cold War is over. That money would be far better spent on health care instead of more "toys for the boys" in the Pentagon. There are also many expensive but critically necessary drugs not presently available to the elderly through Medicaid. The government could provide life-saving medicine to all those who cannot afford the drugs or give pharmaceutical companies big tax breaks for doing so.

Hassan Hatout

Medical doctor and author of books on biomedical ethics from an Islamic perspective. Los Angeles.

Health care is a basic human right. A patient is a patient and should not be denied treatment for inability to pay the price. This is a common responsibility of society represented by the state. The tragedy, however, was the initial refrain from taking the appropriate preventive steps that combat disease by preventing its causes. If a certain lifestyle is conducive of the spread of the disease, then a massive campaign should have been launched to warn and educate the people. The industry of mind manipulation should have been worked hard to create the necessary social and moral climate, with resort to legislation if we must. Whether it is AIDS, typhus or smallpox, the principle is the same. But alas, AIDS has become a political issue with a strong lobby.

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