≡ Menu

I'm Not Joking: Abolish the FDA

While guest-blogging at the Club for Growth, I suggested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot possibly serve a valid public service. The reasons are many, but one of the most fundamental is that the standards that the FDA is charged with enforcing are inherently indefinable.

The words "safe" and "effective" sound straightforward and simple, but they’re meaningless as guideposts for person A to use when forcibly substituting his judgment for that of person B in determining if some drug is sufficiently "safe and effective" for person B to use. This problem expands exponentially when there are 300 million person Bs.

The only possible escape from this problem is to define "safe" as meaning absolute and total absence of risk for every potential user of a drug, and by "effective" as meaning 100% assurance of positive results for every potential user – an impossible standard.

Several folks have written me, expressing their skepticism.

One reader thought I was joking. Another reader – a friend who is a prominent market-oriented scholar – wrote that I see the world too starkly, in black-and-white, while in fact, this friend says, the world has many shades of gray.

Here’s my response to this friend.

It’s precisely because I understand that the world is emphatically not black and white that I oppose FDA regulation.

I prefer to let each individual choose his or her preferred level of drug safety. Most folks, of course, will consult physicians, and I have no doubt that private certification services will arise on the market to supply further information about drug risks and effectiveness. In my preferred world, each person chooses his or her own level of drug safety.

There would be no make-believe "objective" dividing line ostensibly distinguishing "safe" from "unsafe" drugs — and no centralized, politicized decision arbitrarily prohibiting the use of all drugs that fall on the wrong side of that necessarily arbitrarily drawn line. Moreover, because we each differ from each other — in our likely reaction to drugs, in the extent of our illnesses requiring treatment with drugs, and in our tolerance for risk — in my world each of us would be better able to satisfy more fully each of our respective demands for drugs.

As I see matters, the true black-and-white world view is the one that perceives an objective and easily definable minimum level of drug safety suitable for every American – an objective and easily definable level that we can trust distant bureaucrats to discover and enforce.

See this superb article by Bob Higgs for a deeper analysis.