I interviewed Janet Cheadle, a young girl suffering from a form of cancer that, left untreated, would kill her before she grew up. Her parents wanted to take her to a doctor who claimed he had a treatment that might help her. But the FDA ruled that Janet was not allowed to pursue his treatment because the FDA hadn't sanctioned it. Maybe the wiser move was not to try the treatment. But shouldn't that have been Janet's choice? She was dying. It was her body and her life. Shouldn't she have been allowed to experiment if that was what she and her parents wanted? Ultimately, she was allowed -- but only after her father testified before Congress.
Thousands of Americans die prematurely because they are too fat. Drug companies have invented fat substitutes -- ingredients that taste as good as fat but are not absorbed by your body. This would help the obese, but they are not permitted to try them, because the ingredients are still squeezing through the FDA's 12-to-15-year pipeline. After all, there's a tiny chance that something in these innovative products might hurt us.
But what about the thousands of lives that would be saved? Don't those lives count?
The bureaucrats and reporters focus on the victims of innovation. The fen-phen deaths were on the front pages of most every newspaper. We put Thalidomide babies on magazine covers. But what is not seen often matters more. The fat substitute or the new heart drug might save thousands. But whom would I photograph? We don't know which of us might be saved.
Am I suggesting we just junk the FDA and let the market take over? That sounds chaotic and threatening, and it's not about to happen. But there is a better way. That's next week's column.
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