Friday, September 30, 2011

Richard Schwartzman: Parallels between liberty and health

  There are interesting parallels between those in the libertarian movement and some people involved in the health industry. I’m referring to those who no longer pledge allegiance to formal Western medical traditions run by the AMA and Big Pharma through the federal government.

  The parallels arise naturally. Both of us are involved in challenging an incomplete, and inconsistent mainstream orthodoxy. To be fair, mainstream medicine does do some good — much more than the government — but, like government, it doesn’t want any competition.

  Mainstream medicine on the drug-company side has had it in for nutritional supplements for a long time and is using the Food and Drug Administration to interfere with a person’s right to use natural substances to improve his health.

  Perry Willis, of the libertarian group Downsize DC, wrote in a recent blog, “New nutritional supplements must now be regulated like synthetic food preservatives. I believe the FDA’s action breaks the law. Remember, Congress passed the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act in 1994 to protect my access to nutritional supplements.”

  Willis continued, saying those supplements should not be regulated like synthetic food additives because they are not synthetic food additives: “They are natural food, the consumption of which is protected by law.”

  Willis is one of many people who contend that the FDA practices what he calls regulatory cronyism.

  “Nutritional supplements cannot be patented and exploited by Big Pharma. Instead, supplements compete with Big Pharma,” he said. “I think this competition is what motivates these new regulations.”

  He also notes a “revolving door” between the agency and the pharmaceutical companies, something we see between various financial institutions and the SEC, and between other federal regulatory agencies or departments and the industries they regulate.

  In a separate letter, Downsize calls for the FDA recommendations to be advisory only, not mandatory. It should have no power to mandate what drugs a person may or may not buy.

  It further states that FDA scientists reported that administration decision-makers routinely ask the scientists to give inaccurate or misleading information to both the public and to Congress and that “commercial interests have inappropriately” determined FDA actions.

  Now the agency is looking to expand its power into areas where there is no need:

  “The FDA has made repeated attempts to regulate vitamins and supplements, even though there is no evidence that these things present any danger. Quite the contrary — vitamins and supplements are a powerful example of how health outcomes can be improved, without FDA involvement. The website of the Life Extension Foundation is full of scientific citations to demonstrate this,” according to the letter.

  Some of today’s accepted practices, such as osteopathy and chiropractic, were once outlawed without rational justification. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic practices work well without any bureaucratic blessing and without using patented pharmaceuticals that have adverse side effects.

  People have a natural right to use supplements and herbs, seek alternative modalities, or use the more conventional drug-it-or-cut-it approaches for their health. They don’t need a federal bureaucracy, or even a state or corporate bureaucracy to tell them what they must do. A top-down, one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work any better for health care than it works for clothing, for insurance, or when the federal government decides what’s best for all 300 million Americans in 50 states plus territories.

  There is another parallel, one that might not be as obvious, but poignant nonetheless. Libertarians and those advocating freedom in health choices, regardless of political philosophy, are fighting against something called “social proof.”

  Bette Dowdell, writing in her own health blog, defines “social proof” as an advertising concept in which advertisers work to assure people that making a given choice does not make them different. Fear of being different, she says, stops people from making certain decisions.

  “If would-be customers think you’re asking them to be different from others, they won’t buy,” she said. “Right now, social proof aren’t [sic] us. Only a relatively small group of health-field natives talk about becoming our own health advocates. Which means that most people, concerned about fitting in, still follow doctors, the media — any ‘authority figure’ that makes them feel comfortable — and not responsible.”

  Sound familiar? It should. The FDA says only drugs can claim to cure diseases, ignoring the fact that vitamin C, through citrus fruits and sauerkraut, cured scurvy in the sailing days of yore. Yet people think that taking prescription drugs is the only way to health. Statists tell us that only Democrats or Republicans can cure society’s ills, ignoring the fact that they’re the ones who created the problems in the first place. And people believe that voting for anyone other than a Republican or Democrat is a wasted vote.

  We’ve heard it all before.

  It’s no more a person’s lot in life to be sick than it is to be subservient to the state.

  “The important thing is that we take responsibility for our own health — no matter what others think. Living the best possible life is a whole lot better than following the crowd into the ditch,” Dowdell wrote.

  That, too, sounds familiar. Personal responsibility is the balancing factor for individual liberty. We are responsible for maintaining both our health and our liberty. Government can’t do the former and won’t do the latter.

  Visit the blog on social proof, here.

  Perry Willis’s letter is available on the Downsize DC blog here.

  About the author: Richard Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

  This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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