WATCH: Cancer Patients Arrested for Protesting the TPP for Threatening Access to Lifesaving Drugs

Condemning the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a “death sentence,” two cancer patients last week staged a civil disobedience at the headquarters of the Big Pharma trade group that lobbied to include medical monopolies in the mega-deal.

“The TPP will effectively take some patients backwards in time to the dark ages of cancer treatment," said Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year-old mother and author living with advanced breast cancer who staged the direct action. "It will prevent too many people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses from accessing the new treatments they need to stay alive.” 

On World Cancer Day last Thursday, Heckscher joined with Hannah Lyon, who is described in a press statement as a “29-year-old from California who is in treatment for aggressive cervical cancer.” Wearing shirts that read, “I have cancer. No TPP death sentence,” the two entered the Washington D.C., building that hosts the industry lobby group PhRMA, where they chanted, linked arms and refused to leave.

Surrounded by medical professionals and supporters, the two women were eventually arrested by police, but not before footage of their protest was captured. The video of the action, compiled by the watchdog group Public Citizen, can be seen below.

“I have never spoken in public or engaged in civil disobedience before, but I know at a deeply personal level the life and death stakes for many cancer patients if the TPP is approved,” Lyon said in a statement about the action. “Cancer patients do not have the luxury to wait five or eight years for access to affordable medicines while PhRMA establishes extended monopolies to continue to reap outrageous profits.”

The creative protest was one of many that have been organized around the world opposing the mega-deal between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. International civil society and social movement groups have condemned the accord as a threat to people and the planet, including through its inclusion of secret corporate tribunals that allow multinationals to sue governments over loss of “future profits.”

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned earlier this month that the TPP, negotiated in secret, “will extend pharmaceutical company monopolies and prevent people from accessing life-saving medicines by blocking or delaying the availability of price-lowering generic drugs.”

“Additionally,” MSF continued, “the TPP would dismantle public health safeguards and force developing countries to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies, making it harder for people — and organizations like MSF that serve them — to buy the affordable medicines they need.”

In an article published this week on Common Dreams, Heckscher urged Congress to reject the deal, which is set for a vote this spring or summer. “If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive,” she wrote. “Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access. This means that some people with cancer will die because they can’t get the medicine they need.”

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