Profit Before Principles: The FDA, the Supreme Court and Healthcare Business

I’ve been following several stories the last couple of weeks: the Kosovo declaration of independence, the election in Russia, the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the Pakistani election, and, of course, the Presidential primaries here in the USA. I will be commenting on today’s four primaries tomorrow. As far as the other stories go, I will be posting on them in the near future and the situations in each develop.

What I want to talk about (rant :-)) today is the US Food and Drug Administration and its poor record om mis-approving pharmaceutical products. I have done some earlier articles on the FDA (The FDA and the Poisoning of Our Children, Deadly Bacteria Stalks Hospitals and Schools, and Ch-ch-changes. This latest rant was precipated by a US Supreme Court tie-vote decision handed down yesterday.

By issuing a tie-vote vertdict in the case against the Warner-Lambert Company, part of Pfizer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, the Supreme Court is allowing Warner to be sued over liver-damage claims by users of one of its product. The artilcle mentioned above goes into the specifics, so if you are interested, please read that article.

Two things about this case intrigue me and I am going to briefly discuss both of them here.

The first is the tie-vote. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court, so a tie vote is very rare. The only way that can happen is if one of the judges excuses themselves from a case, which is what happened in this case. Chief Justice John Roberts exused himself from this case because he happens to own substantial stock in this company.

A Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life and many serve well into their eighties or nineties. Their salaries are certainly a lot higher than mine or yours will probably ever be or ever have been. There are all kinds of fringe benefits, like health insurance, tacked on to that salary. So why does a Supreme Court justice need to own shares in a pharmaceutical company, given that the chances the Court will hear lots of cases involving these companies? Any Supreme Court justice, and especially the Chief Justice, should be required to divest themselves of any assets that involve a potential conflict of holding. But, then, we did have a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican President when Roberts was appointed. They believed in profit before principles.

My second concern is the recent track record of the FDA. A lot of their so-called “approved” pharmaceuticals are coming back to haunt them. And, I suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not that long ago, the FDA started charging very high fees to the pharmaceutical companies for the process of getting their products approved.

Now, that does make a great deal of sense if one assumes that the FDA works from the highest ethical principles. but, as we’ve seen in cases ranging from pediatric cold medicines to diabets medications, the FDA is not really doing a very good job of testing and screening these drugs.

The mission of the FDA is to protect the American consumer from phony “snake oils” – the original reason for the FDA. It seems that the FDA’s understanding of “snake oils” does not include so-called medicines whose side effects are worse than the disease those drugs supposedly treat. But then, why shoudl it> After all, the more diseased people, the greater the need for new medications. And that means more money for the FDA. Profit before principles. Business as usual.

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