Last week, I wrote about a federal agency that most people think is indispensable. In reality, I said, the FDA regulates us to death, literally, by forbidding even dying Americans who can't be helped by established medical treatments from trying innovative therapies.
But what's the alternative? Have no oversight? Let any company peddle every dubious medicine to an unsuspecting public? That sounds terrifying. Snake-oil sellers would sell all kinds of harmful stuff. That's why we created the FDA in the first place.
But wait a second. Snake oil sellers sell it anyway. I've done consumer reports on snake-oil sellers for years. Crooks and deluded optimists sell useless baldness remedies, breast enlargers and diet products while the FDA is supposedly in charge. The FDA rarely stopped even the obvious crooks. What it mostly stopped, or delayed, were the serious drug companies' attempts at genuine innovations.
Without an FDA, how would doctors and patients know which drugs were safe and effective?
The same way we know which computers and restaurants are good -- through newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. In a free, open society, competition gets the information out, and that protects consumers better than government command and control.
Why must we give big government so much power? Couldn't FDA scrutiny be voluntary and advisory? Companies that want government blessing would go through the whole process and, after 10 or 15 years, get the FDA's seal of approval. Those of us who are cautious would take only FDA-approved drugs.
But if you had a terminal illness, you could try something that might save your life. You could try it without having to wait 15 years -- without having to break your country's laws to import it illegally from Europe -- without sneaking into Mexico to experiment in some dubious clinic. If I'm dying, shouldn't my government allow me the right to try whatever I want?
If FDA scrutiny were voluntary, the government agency would soon have competition. Private groups like Consumer Reports and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) might step in to compete with the FDA. The UL symbol is already on thousands of products. No government force was required. Yet even though UL certification is voluntary, its safety standards are so commonly accepted that most stores won't carry products without the UL symbol.