So elegant in theory, pure science exists nowhere but in textbooks. In the case of AIDS, emotionalism and political ideology have overshadowed medical issues from the start. Hence former Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny’s Acceptable Risks, an impassioned account of two AIDS activists who battled the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical establishment to make ”experimental” treatments available to patients facing death without them. As the world knows, they discovered no cure but have succeeded in prolonging the lives and easing the suffering of thousands.
Separately and unknown to each other, Jim Corti and Martin Delaney began as small-scale smugglers, making weekend trips to buy medicines available in Mexico but unlicensed in the U.S. Before they were through, Corti, a nurse by trade, was running a huge underground operation bringing in drugs from other countries. Meanwhile, Delaney, a successful corporate consultant, made himself an expert on the disease, capable of debating recalcitrant government experts and winning. The two went on to organize what Kwitny calls ”medically supervised guerrilla trials” of promising treatments deemed inappropriate by an overly cautious FDA. To the author they are heroes of the classic American sort.
Best known for Endless Enemies, an equally tenacious indictment of America’s foreign-policy blunders, Kwitny portrays a bureaucracy clinging to its procedures almost to the point of madness. Thrashing out issues in sometimes tedious detail, he assails politicians and denounces the callousness and dishonesty of the press. It’s not invariably persuasive, but Acceptable Risks nevertheless tells a story that badly needs to be told. B+