Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Another window into the libertarian paradise

Jerry Avorn, in NEJM (and mad props to them for continuing to make their public affairs material open access) looks back on the thalidomide disaster. The younguns may not know about this (I'm often befuddled when I discover you whippersnappers don't now what Vietnam was all about) so to review briefly:

Fifty years ago, drug manufacturers didn't have to prove that their products were safe and effective in order to sell and market them. Sen. Estes Kefauver introduced legislation to require that they do so but, as Avorn tells us, "Kefauver was accused of trying to unnecessarily expand the power of government, threatening the viability of the pharmaceutical industry, and inserting Washington bureaucrats between patients and their doctors, limiting the freedom of both. His legislation seemed doomed."

Damn right and Don't Tread on Me! I will give up my unstudied drugs when they pry my cold dead fingers from the pillbox.

So it turns out that at about the same time, there was a mysterious epidemic in Europe and Australia of babies being born with their hands and feet attached directly to their torsos. It took some freelancing investigators to figure out that their mothers had been prescribed a drug, marketed heavily for morning sickness (not to mention insomnia, premature ejaculation, menopause, alcoholism, depression . ..) sold under various brand names. Because it was called by so many different names in so many different places, it took a while to get it off the market. In the end, more than 10,000 children were born with devastating birth defects.

But . . .

The drug, generically called thalidomide, was never sold in the U.S. because an FDA employee named Frances Kelsey took it upon herself to conclude that evidence of safety was inadequate. Once this story came out, Kefauver's legislation passed. We still have a long way to go -- the deficiencies in the FDA approval process, even today, have been well-covered here. But, after a few more disasters in recent years, we've made some progress.

Listen up Dr. Paul. The drug companies, if left to their own devices, would be selling us arsenic. Liberty does not emerge from the mist if you take away government. On the contrary, we will find ourselves at the mercy of ruthless, greedy, powerful forces that we have no way to resist or even understand. Freedom is a product of democratic government, there is no other way for it to exist.


kathy a. said...


Robert said...

If only more people understood this.