Scooping Meadow Muffins With a Teaspoon
Drug companies play an incredibly influential and important role in our everyday lives –much more so than most people think. A 2004 study by the National Institutes of Health found that almost half of the US population is on a prescription drug of some kind or another. That’s not even counting the over-the-counter use of such common drugs as painkillers, allergy relievers, and heartburn relievers.
There are over 150,000 drugs on the market today, 100,000 of them over-the-counter products. Approximately 15,000 new drugs are being added to the market each year. And how many government agencies exist to regulate them? Only one: the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA regulates a mind-numbing $1 trillion worth of consumer goods, or one quarter of all consumer expenses in the USA, and receives $2.4 billion in funding, roughly .069% of the Federal Budget. A paltry 9,300 employees are split between food safety and drug safety in an attempt to keep up standards and protect the consumer from unfair and unhealthy practices.
So why do I bring this up? Well, Kant’s ideas about pubic and private reasoning seem very pertinent when drug companies make claims about their products.
Are they speaking as an independent company, obligated (at least in theory) to allow the public to make the choices that are in their best interests? In this case, the FDA is not a superior authority, but a guiding force that keeps the company from straying from its moral obligations.
On the other hand, the drug companies could claim that the FDA is the final authority, and that their responsibilities do not go further than pleasing their shareholders. Their claims would have no need to be supported by facts and the only limiting factor would be the public’s tolerance for the cheapest product as possible.
Unfortunately, most drug companies claim to be responsible companies that seek, above all, to save lives while producing the minimum product required to avoid public outrage and maximizing profit.
The FDA is fighting an impossible fight. It is akin to attempting the Herculean task of cleaning out the Augean stables with a teaspoon. If nothing is added, the task will be accomplished in time. Unfortunately, manure keeps being added to the pile.
This is, of course, unsurprising. It is, simply, an opportunity to note how Kant’s philosophy becomes more complicated in practice.