Free Market Fundamentalist Opinion

The Government in Your Medicine Cabinet

“Why,” John Stossel wonders, “do Americans stand aside and let the state limit our choices, even when we are dying?”

In a society where regulation has replaced peoples’ sense of personal responsibility, government intrusion in any sector of the economy is easily accepted. In many countries around the developed world, government maintains a near monopoly on education; it manages health care and it curtails business with labor laws and price controls.

Medical care in the United States is — as in so many countries around the Western World — heavily regulated so there is little reason to presume that more legislation will make the system better.

Part of the regulation comes in the form of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which supervises the safety of cosmetics, food, tobacco, medications and medical equipment, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which is tasked to fight the use and trafficking of substances declared illegal by federal law.

At his blog, libertarian columnist and Fox News contributor John Stossel questions the legitimacy of these agencies and their right to limit Americans’ freedom of choice.

Stossel cites the story of Bruce Tower, a man struggling with cancer who wished treatment with a drug that the FDA hadn’t approved.

One bureaucrat told him the government was protecting him from dangerous side-effects. Tower’s outraged response was: “Side effects, who cares? Every treatment I’ve had I’ve suffered from side-effects. If I’m terminal it should be my option to endure any side-effects.”

Stossel agrees. “Why, in our ‘free’ country,” he asks, “do Americans meekly stand aside and let the state limit our choices, even when we are dying?”

In an interview with Stuart Varney on the Fox Business Network on February 23, Stossel explained why people are so quick to accept government control over which medicine they may and may not use. “It’s instictive to say, let [the FDA] be in there. There are all these guys who want to sell me snake oil. I’m glad the FDA is there to make sure the drugs are safe and effective.” People like the idea of someone watching over them, making sure that they aren’t exposed to bad products or corporate malpractice.

Without government intervention though, wouldn’t people be all the more vulnerable to bad medicine? But Stossel notes that a “private system” is not based on “trusting drug companies.”

Competition leads both drug companies and private regulators to be trustworthy. If they are not trustworthy, they die. Fear of losing business and fear of lawsuits […] “coerce them into honesty.” American food makers rarely poison us today not because of government regulation, which is largely ineffectual, but because they know that if they poison their customers, they’ll go out of business.

The FDA may protect people from “bad stuff,” said Stossel, “but it’s a far bigger injury that they protect us from good stuff, too.”