Compromise Possible in Downs Controversy

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NEW YORK: TIME Online has learned that a compromise is in the works to resolve a controversy over a key prenatal blood test. The test, which nearly every pregnant woman takes to determine whether her baby has Down syndrome, became the center of a prickly debate over medical ethics and medical profits when Dr. Mark Bogart patented part of the screening eight years ago. He has been demanding $9 in royalties from laboratories for each of the millions of pregnant women tested each year, and threatening to sue those that don't comply. The labs argue that the royalties would sharply increase the cost of the test; some have said that rather than bear the cost, they might stop offering the screening. Result: many women, especially the poor women covered by Medicaidís lower reimbursement levels, would not get the test. Bogart has decided to compromise. On Friday, his lawyer, Andrew Dhuey, told TIME Online that his client is currently talking to several labs whose clients are mostly women on Medicaid about a plan under which instead of paying the steep royalties, they would make a "quarterly charitable contribution" to Bogart's company, Biomedical Patent Management Corp. "We are not going to let this become an availability issue," Dhuey said. "Dr. Bogart is a reasonable, compassionate man who has a valid U.S. patent. His is no different from patents on pharmaceuticals or medical devices." One leading medical ethicist, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center, agreed. "It's hard to deal with the entire for-profit side of medicine these days, but what Dr. Bogart is doing is as American as apple pie."