A Culture of Controlling, Malicious Timidity

The course of our future lives, our health and longevity, is swayed by a population of timid mice - but malicious mice, ever ready to use state force to punish and hold back anyone they see as being insufficiently timid. These are people who support the ball and chain of centralized regulation of medical research, people who fear all change, people who fear everything they don't understand, and people who rush to prevent anyone else from enjoying the freedom to undertake personal risk in the course of advancing progress. This describes the vocal mainstream of Western culture: risk-averse, ignorant, and enamored of control for its own sake: a dangerous combination for those who pull upon the strings of law and regulation.

As I have often remarked in the past, freedom is absolutely essential to progress in medicine: the freedom for researchers to attempt goals as they see fit; the freedom for anyone to fund the research and clinical development they desire; the freedom for people to take personal risks in the use of medical technology; the freedom for groups to create an unhampered marketplace in medicine, in which technologies are rapidly sifted for those with the greatest benefit. These are all simply parts of economic and personal liberty, something that is in extremely short supply in the medical industry.

So the mice stamp their little feet, and the impersonal engines of government - the unaccountable employees of bureaucratic bodies such as the FDA - move to prevent us all from undertaking rapid development in medicine, on penalty of jail. For our own good, supposedly.

If anti-aging drugs are possible, they will require dangerous - and ethically troubling - clinical trials. ... If anti-aging medicine is to become a reality, then the various theories about how to halt or reverse the aging process will require testing on human subjects. Carrying out such tests will place unprecedented pressure on the rules protecting human participants in clinical trials. I suspect, then, that human guinea pigs for anti-aging trials will come disproportionately from the poor and disempowered. ... The rich and powerful will be looking to do away with rules that they perceive as denying them millennial life spans.

Those would be the rules preventing terminal cancer patients from choosing to up and pay for their own personal trial of a promising therapy-in-development - forcing them to die without any recourse. The rules that make formal clinical trials so lengthy and expensive that many potential therapies are simply never developed or tried by humans, and those that are might be a decade in the slow regulatory grind from readiness to actual availability. The rules that raise the costs of medicine too high for those poor folk that the author seems to be concerned about. Regulation of medicine, which raises costs, disrupts the effective market mechanisms of progress, and prevents people from using potential therapies that are technologically feasible and ready to field-test, is a morally bankrupt affair.

But this is the culture we live in, sad to say: one in which vague and poorly articulated discomfort with potential future inequities are given more consideration than the ongoing massive toll of death and suffering that we should be working day and night, as fast as possible, to prevent. A toll of 100,000 lives every day, and the hundreds of millions who are crippled, diminished, and in pain. Instead we get institutions like the FDA, whose staff toil to prevent new medicine from ever seeing the light of day. The mice would close their eyes and drown the world in blood just to feel a little better in their own vague sense of disquiet: they are the very worst of humanity, not even willing to acknowledge the fearsome costs of their own timidity.