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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
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Who Owns You?


Darcy Olsen, president of the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, and Richard Garr, president of Neuralstem, a biotech company, wrote "Right to Try experimental drugs" in USA Today (5/28/2014). They pointed out that "this year, more than 5,000 Americans will lose their battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease." Up until recently, there was no medicine on the market that significantly improved the lives of ALS patients. But now there is one in clinical trials that holds considerable promise, but it has not been granted Food and Drug Administration approval. The average amount of time it takes to get a drug through the FDA approval process is 10 years. That's time that terminal patients don't have.

Legislators in Colorado, Louisiana and Missouri recently approved "Right to Try" legislation, and Arizona voters will vote on the measure this November. "Right to Try" is an initiative designed by the Goldwater Institute. It would give terminal patients access to investigational drugs that have completed basic safety testing. Under a doctor's supervision, people would be given the chance to try promising experimental drugs before they're given final FDA approval.

There's no denying that there's risk in taking a drug or medical procedure that hasn't completed clinical trials. The question is: Who has the right to decide how much risk a person will take — he or some faceless Washington bureaucrat? In my opinion, the answer depends upon the answer to the question: Who owns you? If one owns himself, then it is he who decides how much risk he takes. If government owns you, then you don't have the right to unilaterally decide how much risk you'll take.

The FDA's mission is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals. In doing so, FDA officials can make two types of errors. They can approve a drug that has unanticipated dangerous side effects, or they can disapprove or delay a drug that is both safe and effective.

FDA officials have unequal incentives to avoid these two types of errors. If the FDA official errs on the side of under-caution — approving a dangerous drug — the victims are visible, and he is held directly accountable. If he errs on the side of over-caution — holding up approval of a safe and effective drug — who's to know? The cost and the victims are invisible. Politicians and bureaucrats prefer invisible victims.

Here are a couple of notable examples. Clozapine was approved and used in 1972 in Europe. Clozapine's ability to treat schizophrenics who did not respond to other medicines became well-known by 1979. Yet the drug was not approved in the United States until 1989 because companies believed that the FDA would reject it on the grounds that 1 percent of patients who took the drug contracted a blood disease. As an article in The New England Journal of Medicine stated, "what is remarkable is that clozapine has a beneficial effect in a substantial proportion (30 to 50 percent) of patients who have an inadequate response to other ... drugs." Nearly 250,000 people with schizophrenia suffered needlessly, when relief was at hand.

According to Robert M. Goldberg, writing for the journal Regulation, "Mevacor is a cholesterol-lowering drug that has been linked to reduction in death due to heart attacks. It was available in Europe in 1989 but did not become available in the United States until 1992. Studies confirm what doctors saw to be the case: taking the drug reduces death due to heart disease by about 55 percent. During that three-year period as many as a thousand people a year died from heart disease because of the FDA delay."

There is self-correction when a drug that has unanticipated dangerous side effects has been marketed. The drug is removed. But there's no self-correction when a safe, effective lifesaving drug is not approved or is delayed. Those 5,000 ALS patients who will die of their disease this year are invisible, and FDA officials are unaccountable. "Right to Try" legislation is a step in the right direction to remedy that.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



13 Comments | Post Comment
Don't believe many of the statistics from drug companies. I was on Mevacor for several years after a mild heart attack, and the side effects were disabling. That "55%" only applies to men with previous heart attacks, and is the difference between 2% and 3% of actual trial participants--who had an overall death rate virtually equal.
Comment: #1
Posted by: partsmom
Mon Jun 9, 2014 12:02 PM
Two thoughts on this one:
The same "who owns your body" issue applies to the enforcement of drug laws. If you own your body, not the government, then the government should not have much say in the matter of what you choose to put in your body. Time to end the foolish war on drugs.
The second issue is one of basic research. If all drugs are available to dying patients who have few other options, how do you find study participants representing a wide variety of physical descriptions? Why would anybody sign up for a double blind study knowing that they might not get the drug when they could just demand the drug? Somebody getting the placebo is unlikely to survive while the new drug might be beneficial. Without double blind studies it will be difficult to determine drug efficacy, dosage, side effects. How does a drug get approval for use on patients who are not dying if the drug companies have difficulty finding represenative study participants?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mark
Mon Jun 9, 2014 6:55 PM
Re: partsmom
This is not an article about drug companies. It is about Liberty, and your right to choose what you want to do, or how they violate your Liberty.

Tho' your points are fine to make, it has little to nothing to do with Dr. Williams post.
Comment: #3
Posted by: TruthInAction
Tue Jun 10, 2014 4:41 AM
Sir;... Your question introduces a fallacy in sheer skin tight leotards jumping around like a gigallo with ben gay in his butt...You must be blind to not see it for all it is..
If it were possible to own yourself, it would be possible to sell yourself to a drug company or anyone else, and while necessity may be contrived by one or others to make such sale inevitable, society out of the necessity of preserving freedom for all- must forbid such trading by individuals... We cannot be owned, even by ourselves, though it is permissable to sell our labor power... One cannot sell oneself into white slavery... People do so, though it is justly illegal, because it affects the economy of marriage, and really, all voluuntary sexual relationship, and it debases the intimacy that is each person's pride, and maybe his or her primary contribution to the union... Just as some one who waters their milk makes commerce difficult for all milk producers and distributers, and if you were an economist you would know this; but you are making your fallacious moral argument as usual garbed as economy..
Freedom is not the same as self ownership just as control through lease that resembles ownership is not ownership... We all have our freedom as a legacy, just as we have as a legacy the obligation to defend that liberty... If people are told they have ownership of their bodies. it is only said by those who wish for them to trade upon their worth... A famous French Philosopher once defined a right as a property...A power is not a property...A property may be preserved, but a power preserves the person...And here is the crux... The freedom of the society depends upon the rights of the individual, but if rights can be conceived of as alienable, we are forced to ask if there has ever been a game the could not be fixed, or a market that could not be rigged...
The correct definition of a right is all a person cannot live without, and this includes dire necessity and moral forms such as happiness or love... A person can no more cede what they need to live than they could sell the air they need to breath... And this is because all social and moral forms take as their sinnequanon our continued existence...You cannot reason as though you do not exist, and you cannot reason yourself out of existence because existence is the point of reasoning, the predicate of predicates, the meaning of meanings...
If Native Americans for trinkets and favors signed away land when they had no conception of property, no fences, no mine and thine; they then had no choice but to depart or fight with either course likely to result in death... When our powerful had power over us, we presumed each chief to have power over his, though his power was limited by his ability to do the will of his people, and no one wills their own destruction... A chief showing a willingness to share space with certain people did not equate to a property privilage we take as meaning exclusivity, the right to exclude others...Were people their own property, is it possible to sell only a portion of their lives much as people sell some portion for labor, or does the very term: Individual preclude such division... Certainly a drug likely to result in damage or death may take the whole life for what should be an infinite and inestimable price...And having given up a life which is ones entire meaning for money which only has meaning in relation to life, isn't the individual short changed, and society as well???
We can see from the slave economy before the Civil War, that the slave masters were often driven to mortal cruelty by a market controlled on both ends by Yankee Traders... From the financial powers that loaned money on men and depreciated them as machinery is today, and the shippers, traders, and exporters who brought cotton to markets, the power and control of the masters was limited to their slaves, while they were the slaves to money and middle men... As is so often the case, producers are allowed to remain in business with all the profit sucked out of it... Even with all that free labor, the South was an undeveloped and empoverished section of the country...If they had slavery today the whole place would be poorer still...And; when free labor with the republican party -resisted slavery it was in defense of their own rights, and when the government became theirs, it was using all legitmate authority in regulating commerce in slaves...If people should decide to sell themselves or their birthrights for a pot of beans out of contrived necessity, the government as the people has all the consitutional power it needs to regulate that commerce, and even to forbid it...
People betray us, use us, and often sell us down the river, and this behavior, though sub human may be inevitable since we do not squash it...We sanction what we do not forbid... Only people can be conceived of as having property, and can never be conceived as being property... In this form of relationship called society in which no one stands alone, peace and survival depend upon a self conception and a general conception of all selves as spiritual beings which is contrary to the general conception of property as disposable, alienable, and liable to complete destruction...Put simply, we are qualities, and to conceive of humanity as quanities, though often done, is to objectify them... And there is much confusion of object and subject in your thoughts... It is usual for people to see themselves subjectively and spiritually, and common for them to see others as mere objects when they would be offended to see themselves so conceived...
The fallacy of property owning property is as silly on its face as dogs owning property...Where is the dog that owns the man??? If it were possible for a dog to own, if you owned the dog, would you then own all the dog owns too???
Even where property is defined and intellectual property, it is always owned, and does not own... Property as a form of relationship is a reality... People as a form of relationships is impossible...It is those enemies of humanity who want us seen as objects, and want us to see ourselves as objects who are our greatest threat...Properly speaking, people relate through their forms... They are not the forms that people relate through, but they are the relationship, and we should cearly see it that way...You may say you are empowering people to treat them as objects and property, but you are putting them on the scales of commerce at a disadvantage...I am not saying this is not done all the time in the exchange of labor power for wages...If it is done at all, society must realize its stake in preventing use, abuse, and degradation of people as the price of their survival, or we must ask we we bother to support such a society that does not serve our needs...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:13 AM
Re: TruthInAction;... I agree that the article is about liberty, and liberty is not abstraction as property and money are... What people need in the way of rights is exactly that necessary for their existence and happiness, but it is wrong to assume people suffering contrived necessity are ever able to attain the perspective of a whole society determined upon the existence and happiness of all... Liberty is enjoyed individually, but defended socially; and in our society it is because individual freedom has been so limited, and rights have been forced to give way too often to privilage -that we are in the predicament of people saying: everyone for themselves...
Many would willingly sell themselves into slavery, and many have already done so... The consequences of their thoughts are so terrifying that they dare not think, but instead let others think for them, or cling blindly to hope... Our condition was never justified, and never inevitable until we signed on to the constitution with its insane privilages... Still; we have the right to regulate commerce, and we can keep our brothers from selling their souls out of necessity when it was always the job of government to overcome necessity...
Almost every drug the companies want to try on humans- could be tried on apes, but apes are expensive and people are nearly free because they suffer so their necessity, their insecurity and their failed dreams...Look at how many of us suicide... Look at how many trainloads of anti depressants and anti anxiety meds we eat... You cannot fool people as to the condition of their lives and their state of happiness... If you want people to die; just tell them it will end their problems and make some one happy, and they will form a line... Such people are in no condition to make rational choices about their own interest and welfare, and at this time no one is better situated to do so because the state is a corrupted cur for the rich...If the state were invested in the idea of doing what the distressed individual cannot, this would be a radically different society, but the state is made up of those people who have distressed this people... If the state were interest in freeing the people to settle their own issus, the would be a revolutionary land, and dangerous for all... We are fortunate that the government does not so construe our rights as to allow them to sell the people to the highest bidder for we would then suffer the here and now consciously, and require even more medecine and more anxiety...It does not matter what the excuse is, for there will always be an excuse... This is a gateway issue that seems quite reasonable on the surface, but what the state allows they encourage, and the use of people as guinne pigs and lab rats today could result in the harvesting of organs from the young to give immortality to those who dare not die...
What is so wrong with death that we must prevent it, and steer nature clear of our demise??? Look at the Muslims who fear God and fear not death for an example... If we are not willing to live justly in regard to our God and our fellow human beings we should not fear death, but the punishment from our fellow human beings now denied to us...I mean; If we must wait until those who injure people and destroy this nation will die a natural death they can indefinitely prolong, and hope that God in heaven will do what we cannot do, then we are truly powerless and are slaves... To deny our condition of bondage and servitude to a dead and dying people who are killing us is an act of revolution... If you must be free, you must throw overboard the baggage of the past and serve you own survival...
When the next person to volunteer as a lab rat makes it that much easier for them to do the same to you or me, or make me an organ farm for some Cheney; it is time to resist...Everyone believes their skin is more valuable than the next, and that they are of a finer pedigree... The moment you reject democracy, political socialism and equality, and say: This life is not as valuable at that life; then you have become one of them who equate the death of many with their own luxury... Life is not a luxury, but the more we die, the more luxury they enjoy,,,
Comment: #5
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:24 PM
In the summer of 1952 before the Salk there some 57,628 cases of a crippling plague reported throughout the country. Many children would die, most would come through unable to move their legs or unable to move their arms and legs, and some could move nothing but their eyes. A few would remain in an iron lung. And, unfortunately, Dr. Jonas Salk was left to try his "dead virus" vaccine on only those who would come to his clinic after hours--in great desperation but with great hope. During the day Dr. Salk worked to create the formaldehyde-based vaccine for as many patients as he could--some 700 children, and at night he dispensed it. By the summer of 1954, Dr. Salk's vaccine inoculated more than a million children in a large field trial financed by the March of Dimes. And within a few years, the Salk Vaccine is documented--with only partial government approval--to have reduced the incidence of polio by as much as 95 percent.

This event does not negate the FDA approval process. It does, however, offer reason and explanation for the ethical offer of reasonable medicines to patients whose morbidity and mortality render them helpless to all other ends. What are they or anyone else waiting for? In the case of ALS, it's either more suffering and certain death, or betterment. There is no other question.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Rick Martinez
Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:09 AM
Re: Mark
Thank you for pointing to the larger issue. The war on drugs is a lie. In fact, it is war
against human beings and their freedom.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Rick
Wed Jun 11, 2014 12:05 PM
Re: James A, Sweeney
Your post makes no sense because I own my body. If you want your body to be owned by some collective, that is your choice. But, you don't get to choose for others.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Rick
Wed Jun 11, 2014 12:10 PM
Re: Rick Martinez;... It is as foolish to hold the opinion that big business can save your life as it is to think our government can save the world...There is much evidence that big medicine is as dangerous to humanity as big illness... We know how to prevent many diseases... We know how to treat pandemics, and epidemics... In our faith in science to save us with solutions we dare diseases no one should but fear... If the economy required your death tomorrow as the price of unrestricted trade and travel tomorrow; then it must be so... Your example of Salk is very appropriate to me; first because I was mule to a man who found his way to productivity through Polio... And also because Salk was trapped in a society that could not rationally consider alternatives, and out of its sense of morality that prefered to treat rather than prevent polio. and by a wide margin gave its support for treatment...
Have we not made the same choice with AIDS???... If you cannot cure the disease then treatment should be considered rationally based upon the prospective good of society... When some religious people welcomed the disease as a new scourge of God, other were keeping it alive longer by treating it without treating the underlying behavior that encouraged its spread...When a society cannot consider its own welfare because it is so focused on the welfare of the individual- it is blind and going blind into its future... And I understand the sort of hatred for humanity that stands behind the conscious spread of disease, but are we not all behind such spread, just by allowing it??? You can talk about a gutterpunk sharing needles with a junkie, but it is no different from the demands of capital for profit no matter what people are subjected to in the process...
Comment: #9
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Jun 11, 2014 1:45 PM
Re: Rick... Want has nothing to do with it...If MY society demands it I can be sent to war, and if they so desire, I can be executed... There is not doubt the I am theirs, and equally no doubt that they are mine... We own each other in a sense, but there is no exclusivity of rights... Rather, our rights that are expressed socially as in the powers of government should complement those individual rights we are thought to possess... And socially, we can through government say what behavior we find offensive, and which we will allow, and even the constitution gives the right to regulate commerce... Just as with property, we cannot own it, but rather own rights in it; because ownership as conceived as free and clear is incompatable with a commonwealth...If your ownership were absolute you might well take your land under you own flag and tell the U.S. to blow... I trust this has happened and happens yet today, but it has no permanence... Without the state standing behind the title, you are left alone in the defense of it, first from the government, and then from the whole world.... Your rights are limited and your ownership is limited and this is true even of self, that we have the privilage of unrestrained freedom so long as we will defend it, and it does not exceed the bounds of equity...
Tom; only those who want you to sell your rights out will tell you -that you own you...Consider how strange it is to even think in terms applied generally to objects, and no where can an object own itself...When the whole thousand year history of modern humanity has been aimed at addressing and recognizing the spiritual nature of mankind, here comes those who want to buy what they say people own... If you owned 99% of a piece of property you could not sell it as hundred percent... When you see you sell only what you can possess of property which is rights in it, understanding that society also has rights in it, you can translate that into ownership of your own individual rights as shared in large part by society... You may be unpossessed, but even if you think you own yourself, society must agree with that assessment for you to sell any part of yourself...And society has produced us, educated us, protected and fed us, and if we do not owe it some part of our being in your opinion, then in my opinion you are an ingrate... Figure it out... We certainly need more rights than we own, and if we did, then all wealth would be ours, and the thought that we could own ourselves and sell ourselves on an auction block for lentil soup would sound to every ear as stupid as it is... Like I said; An ape would cost them something, but what they are willing to pay people to risk their lives is a triffle...And when they are done with us we can go back to being trash robbed of our rights and dreams...The government is never much protection for people trapped between poverty and desparation; but only because it is not a democracy...And we can fix that...
Comment: #10
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Jun 11, 2014 2:16 PM
FDA needs to be reorganized. The power to ban any drug ought to be removed from the bureaucrats. The FDA could provide a service, however, by giving manufacturers an option to seek "approval" of a drug, especially if that approval carried a prohibition against malpractice torts other than mis-manufacture. That would both facilitate production of potentially beneficial drugs and accelerate their distribution. And the value of a tort-ban is not to be underestimated in the war on healthcare costs.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Joel
Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:23 PM
James -- Most of what you say makes no sense to me. For example, you say, "Rather, our rights that are expressed socially as in the powers of government should complement those individual rights we are thought to possess."

It makes no sense because our government is just a gang of thieves and murderers, and every human being has rights that have nothing to do with any government. Governments, like all criminal gangs, are the greatest violators of human rights. If you don't care about all the injustice in this country that is being committed by your government, look at the mass murder it is doing in foreign countries.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Rick
Wed Jun 11, 2014 9:29 PM
Re: Rick;...What can be generally said of our government does not mean it never does good... If it were all a miserable failure we could all agree to change it and go home... It is enough of a success in spite of glaring failures that people fear to lose it more than they fear it... And speaking as a nearly life long revolutionary, even while revolution is the only way we can rejevenate our society because reform has been made impossible, still it is a dangerous situation that could destroy many lives... Before that happens we should talk everything out because the greater the force for revolution the less resistence and violence there will be...
And this false moral predicate offers a perfect sort of point to talk out; because it is life which is meaning, and to make objects of people is a denial of meaning... It is out of our meaning of life that we give abstractions like money their meaning... Money is cool... We can buy more life with it... To possibly sell your health, your life, your only being for mere money, an abstraction of value when we already have the value of values makes no sense, and no good can come of it ...
If dire need is the excuse, it is the same excuse for cowardice in the face of the enemy...Your need to preserve your life for a moment with money when it demands the very risk of life you are trying to preserve is a need your government should certainly try to prevent under the heading of general welfare...
Treating people as objects is not the answer and it endangers us more than new medicines can help us... Never forget the metaphysical argument behind the political argument even if you do not buy it: All men created equal, as this testifies that our rights are based upon our common spiritual being, and if the capitalism this country has so long supported has only reduced us to objects, even if in our own minds, then it is time again to assert our spiritual , and moral being...
Clearly the government has the power to prevent behavior that demeans us all, or endangers us all...According to our religion we were formed in the image of God, and since God has been so long traded on, it may only seem natural that human beings should be put on the auction block; but it is not right...
Disease is not the enemy... Death is not some scourge... These are natural events... But when the rich see no other way to preserve the lives they love other than by enticing the poor to risk lives they do not enjoy nor value, there is something wrong with this reality... For the eternal lives of the rich and their corporations, the poor live lives infernal...This situation would never have occured if we had had enough democracy to prevent the privatization of our commonwealth...
This objectification of humanity is the very thing we once fought a civil war over... Can people be objects, and can we be sold are questions answered long ago...Disease is not the enemy, but widespread need- that the government could have ended long ago- is the enemy...This question cannot all be laid upon the hypothetical freedom of the seller, because as poverty is the path to slavery, liberty is the way to wealth, so no poor person should be considered free... Ethicist have had this discussion before in regard to prisoners as lab rats, and we see the extreme of it in the death camp experiment of Dr. Mengala...
I am not lying here... The Preamble of the Constitution is a long indictment of the failures of the Constitution... If we had liberty and justice and general welfare none of us would ever be put in a situation so without alternatives when to find alternatives is what government should exist for...Look at our government tie itself up in a knot with fate, and meekly bleat: We can do nothing... They can do nothing, they have charted their course, and are ripe for hyperboly...
Treating people as objects is not the solution... Treating people as objects is the problem, and if government took its task seriously this question would never come up... Many who sell their bodies cheap in America have no choice...Death camp experimental subjects had no choice... It is certain each had or will have a number; but are we no so much more than that??? What else do our poor have in common with the death campers besides hopelessness...We have had people here who have collected a years worth of zoomies cleaning nuclear power plants for eight hours of pay... Maybe the standards are too tight, and people could really stand to earn two days pay for the same light work... It is not for the individual to decide, but for society to judge out of its own sense of self interest...From a purely objective perspective, the right never supports a demand for human right unless they expect people to do something stupid with it...
Put the shoe on your foot...If you were hungry and I offered the opportunity to give up your right to life for a grand; would you??? I wouldn't kill you, I promise; it is just that you will no longer have a legal right to life... Don't you imagine your surrender of your rights for such a little money endangers us all, and that you are for small money a traitor to our common cause???...The government does not hold up its end, but we should hold up ours, because the final defense of freedom rests with the people... We have no choice but a general defense of freedom because the forces against freedom are always more powerful than any number of individuals, and must be resisted en masse...
Yes; our government is bad and should be resisted; and perhaps the only reason governments should have a use by date is that they can all be corrupted and stink...If our government seems to threaten us with coercion it is because it is wobbly and weak, and this does not make us strong, but it does make them dangerous...A stiff wind of resistence would blow them down... No violence... No need to organize revolution or write a constitution...Just huff and puff and blow...When they implode, with a broom and a shovel we could all clean up the mess... We don't have a government... We have a bunch of party animals and bureaucrats holding hands...Our people are their enemy...Wasn't that part of the Oligarchic Oath as reported by Aristotle: I will be an enemy of the people...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #13
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Jun 14, 2014 9:44 AM
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