“From colonial times until the 1940s, malaria was the American disease,” said the late Dr. Robert Desowitz, an expert in medical parasitology. From prehistoric days to the baby boomer generation, malaria (also known as yellow fever) claimed more victims than any other infectious disease. The medieval and colonial eras—replete with bogus science little more than old wives’ tales, abominable sanitary and hygienic precautions, and hazardously overcrowded cities—were conducive to outbreaks like the infamous 1793 Philadelphia epidemic.
Virtually eliminating the threat that malaria once posed, many crucial medical and scientific advancements would have never existed had the 18th-century United States government imposed requirements for malaria treatment—the untimely intrusion would have swamped healthcare progress and scientific efforts. Whether from malicious motivations or the commendable desire to keep citizens healthy, regulation means more malaria and no progress, universal detriment to humanity and the consistent result of government attempting to make health mandatory.
In the space of four months in 1793, malaria killed over 5,000 Philadelphians. The scientific consensus prompted diagnoses of the imbalanced humors phlegm, choler, bile, and blood. Revolutionary War hero Dr. Benjamin Rush hypothesized that street stenches disequilibrated the humors and sparked the outbreak; city government attempted to lessen the odoriferousness of the rudimentary sewage systems. Not surprisingly, the city’s misinformed efforts left malaria unchecked.
This raises an important question: what if an equally misinformed 1793 equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had become involved in ending the epidemic?
At the time, most doctors employed ineffective herbal tea to treat yellow fever; others found more jeopardizing medicines. Known as the “prince of bleeders”, politically connected Dr. Rush staunchly advocated a mercury and jalap poison purge for curing the rampant disease.
Assuming that a 1793 FDA was possible, and that the likes of Dr. Rush would not overthrow the tyrannical institution, the administration would likely approve a poison purge and a few herbal teas. Other treatments and medicines would wait years for testing before their market debut. Pouring into approved projects aligned with government goals, funding would for centuries crush and “disprove” alternatives.
Locked in interventionist cronies’ stagnant spell, medical science would be forced into stalemate. If existent at all, progress would inch along at the will and in the shape of government agenda. Government is an unauthorized and incompetent failure when it limits individuals’ health decisions—evidence is ample in Canadian healthcare, capable of working miracles but otherwise smothered in thousands of pages of regulations.
For over 70 years, science has had malaria under its thumb. Clearly state intrusion would have rendered this victory, the easily manufactured pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, unlikely or impossible.
Whether levying taxes on fatty foods, capping the size of sugary drinks, or rejecting new cancer drugs, government has no incentive whatsoever, other than lobbyists’ well-lined wallets, to accept change or innovation. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a popular but controversial proponent of alternative medicine, commented, “The FDA will not protect your health, nor will any other government agency … the government is interested in promoting drug company profits, not promoting your health.” (Mercola)
As John Stossel explains in his recent book, No, They Can’t, “If government ran health care, those advances would slow to a crawl, because governments don’t innovate. They just keep doing what did last year.” (Stossel) Burgeoning medical and scientific knowledge alone considered, a cure for cancer is more likely in 2014 than ever before. The FDA’s tainted scrutinizing, however, is lowering the chances of such a breakthrough.
William Faloon remarked, “A major reason so many cancer patients die today is an antiquated regulatory system that causes effective therapies to be delayed (or suppressed altogether).” (Faloon) Stossel illustrates why the dawdling regulatory system forms in the first place: caution. Natural hesitance “makes it easy for government to leap in and play the role of protector,” he explains (Stossel). The FDA takes, on average, 12 years to approve a new and potentially life-saving drug. With an average cost of bringing a new drug to market at $1.3 billion, major pharmaceutical companies sometimes pay up to $11 billion in the never-ending quest to appease FDA employees. In twelve years, cancer kills about 91.2 million patients worldwide.
That the dismissive gesture of a bureaucrat’s annoyance and the insidious corruption of a slow-witted agency could be directly responsible for millions of deaths is not only preposterous, but unacceptable. Brenna Liepold, a teenaged cancer victim who died in 2003 at eighteen, lamented: “Modern science cannot offer me a cure …” (Painter). Tragically, Liepold’s death is largely attributable to the FDA’s sluggish approval system. Government involvement in medical science and an individual’s healthcare choice is an intrusion threatening life itself: FDA agents are mere human beings in superhuman positions that entail third-party life-and-death decisions.
One can only ponder our national condition had the FDA, with its present jurisdiction and imperium, come into existence 221 years ago. Presupposing that another country’s doctors would not intervene, life expectancy would still be 35 years; disease would be attributed to imbalanced humors; and Philadelphians would still chew garlic and burn gunpowder to ward off yellow fever. All things considered, legislators’ good intentions usually precipitate catastrophic debacles like the FDA. When the state invites itself into one of the most personal matters of life—the health of citizens—the state has adopted compulsory death, disease, and stagnation as official policy.
Ultimately, government overstepping its bounds and taking on the role of supreme health authority is more destructive than all the infected mosquitoes on the planet. Perhaps totalitarianism should be known as the American disease, now that malaria is obsolete in this role. One thing is certain about this ideological affliction resulting in inconceivable physical tragedy: the American people should, with the determination of the dauntless individuals who forced the downfall of malaria’s empire, focus their attention on eradicating and conquering this strain of liberalism forevermore.