We’ve all heard the horror stories about persons with conditions no approved therapy could cure or palliate, who were denied the right to try experimental treatments because… well, because the FDA hadn’t approved them. The excellent movie Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey, depicts one such case. The logic behind giving the FDA the power to deny sufferers with terminal conditions access to experimental treatments frankly escapes me. Yet it’s been that way for a very long time.
Then there’s the somewhat more arguable realm of persons who suffer from non-terminal maladies. The FDA’s power to ban unapproved treatments affects them, too. The logic there is a bit more plausible:
- Smith has a non-terminal condition;
- Therefore, Smith isn’t dying of it;
- Therefore, there might be an approved treatment for it before Smith dies;
- Therefore, risking an unapproved treatment is not in Smith’s best interests, as it might kill him.
But of course, that skein of reasoning only holds water if we concede the power to decide “Smith’s best interests” to a federal or state bureaucracy. It’s an arrogation of power I find indefensible, but your mileage may vary.
The above is merely a preface to the following kinda-sorta short story.
Jones was chagrined. He had to tell Smith something the man would not enjoy hearing. Yet it was imperative under the law that he do so. The other course would imperil his license to practice.
“Mr. Smith,” he began, and faltered.
Smith was immediately alert. “Bad news, Doctor?”
“Well, I’d rather know than not know, so give it to me straight. Will this… condition kill me?”
Jones sat back in his desk chair and groped for words.
He deserves the truth. He’s been candid with me. I owe him the same.
“Not…directly,” he said. “Not of itself. But if the statistics are trustworthy, various problems that are known to be associated with it will degrade your quality of life. They might shorten your life as well.”
Smith grimaced and nodded. “I expected that. It’s why I came to you. But there is a treatment, isn’t there?”
It was Jones’s turn to grimace in chagrin. “Not an approved one.”
Smith’s eyes widened. “After all this time and all the millions of people with this… thing?”
“I know,” Jones said. “It’s monstrous. But the state has banned the only known treatment. Mind you,” he said, “that treatment isn’t absolutely reliable. In fact it fails more often than it succeeds. But it’s the only known approach…”
“Well,” Smith said, “if it works sometimes, isn’t it worth a try?”
“I think so,” Jones said. “If I were in your position, I’d want to try it. But the state has outlawed it. I’m forbidden to offer it to you.”
Despair flooded Smith’s features. He looked away. “So I have to stay like this.”
Jones said nothing.
After a long and agonizing interval, Smith rose. Jones rose as well. They clasped hands mutely, Smith turned, and left Jones’s office in an open state of dejection. Jones all but collapsed into his seat.
They suffer and suffer, and I’m forbidden to aid them. What point is there in what I do, setting myself up as a dispenser of cures, when the only possible cure for one of Mankind’s worst, most life-limiting afflictions is denied me?
He’d asked himself that question many times before. He still lacked an answer.
No physician I’ve known would be happy about telling a patient what Jones told Smith in the above. Yet it’s a common problem. You could imagine several maladies, some of them lethal, as Smith’s unmentioned “condition.” But this morning I have a specific one in mind. Joy Pullman addresses it at The Federalist:
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to 26 state laws at least partly based on studies claiming “conversion therapy” increases LGBT Americans’ suicide risks. Yet every existing study that makes this claim is seriously scientifically unsound, several research reviews recently found.
Please read it all. Proceed thence to this Baseline Essay, which has earned me more hate mail and more vilifications than all the rest of my output combined. Then ponder this:
Draw your own conclusions.