In a statement raising the specter of Sarah Palin’s mythical “death panels,” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) attacked the FDA for revoking its approval of the breast cancer drug Avastin after it determined that the drug does more harm than good:
“I shudder at the thought of a government panel assigning a value to a day of a person’s life,” Vitter said in the news release. “It is sickening to think that care would be withheld from a patient simply because their life is not deemed valuable enough. I fear this is the beginning of a slippery slope leading to more and more rationing under the government takeover of health care that is being forced on the American people.”
Vitter was responding to a July 19 recommendation by a 13-member advisory committee that the FDA remove approval for Avastin, produced by Roche Holding AG, because it showed only a limited benefit to women taking the drug in conjunction with chemotherapy, especially given the significant increase in side effects over chemotherapy alone.
Vitter’s fear of a slippery slope is absurd. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which requires the FDA to review drugs to ensure that they are safe and effective before they are sold to patients. It would be quite an accomplishment if President Roosevelt somehow managed to create a federal death panel without anyone noticing for over seven decades.
In reality, an essential function of the FDA is ensuring that drugs whose side effects are more dangerous than their benefits do not reach the market. That is exactly why the FDA pulled approval of Avastin, because scientific studies — conducted by people who know a whole lot more about medicine than David Vitter — determined that Avastin is more likely to harm cancer patients than to help them. If Vitter had his way, such scientific research would be ignored and millions of patents would be endangered by quack medicine.
In other words, Vitter’s plan to substitute his own judgment for that of medical experts bears a lot more resemblance to a “death panel” than anything the FDA has done.