Gold is a noble element, one so chemically stable that it’s found untarnished in the ground. But under some conditions, it can be converted to gold salts, which were the standard of care for rheumatoid arthritis. However, gold salts – which are quite toxic –have been replaced with a number of superior immunosuppressive drugs over the past two decades. The Golden Age of gold salts is over.
If a standard treatment exists for a medical condition, is it unethical to give patients who are enrolled in a clinical trial a placebo? Most would argue yes, but the ethics become unclear when the standard treatment has its own risks.
Gold is known as a noble metal because of its lack of chemical reactivity. But if you treat it right, you can get it to do some cool things. You can chew on it, make some lousy drugs, screw up the environment mining it, and (maybe) even make a super-pricey burger. Really.