OpinionMeister

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

No Need For an FDA

Readers of this blog know that I believe that we would be better off without the Food and Drug Administration, or at least with it greatly reduced in authority. I now discover that John Stossel agrees with me. Link.
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.

99.9% of the time, private organizations will do a better job than a government agency. Having to make a profit, or even just having to break even for a non-profit agency, introduces a discipline that ususally produces a better outcome than civil service, you-cannot-be-fired-no-matter-how-bad-a-job-you-do agencies.

The only incentive that the FDA has is to never approve a drug that may someday prove to be unsafe, and the only way to insure that is to never approve any drug. They cannot quite get away with that, so instead they require a decade or more of testing beyond when a rational observer would see that a drug is reasonably safe and effective, thus insuring that very few make it through the process.. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans die.

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