An Oz of Protection Worse than the Disease

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The latest good news/bad news story in which the bad news more than makes up for the good takes the form of a medical student who is receiving publicity for wanting to "take down" a popular quack. Unfortunately, his cure is short-sighted and, as such, worse than the disease:

I wrote policy for the Medical Society of the State of New York [where Dr. Oz is licensed] and the American Medical Association asking them to more actively address medical quackery on TV and in the media -- specifically Dr. Oz.

The New York policy was passed in modified form. Organized medicine in New York is aware of what Dr. Oz is saying and how he is able to fall through the gaps of regulation. Many New York physicians testified at their annual meeting about the harm they are seeing happen day-to-day with their own patients. Patients stop taking proven medications in favor of "natural" medications that Dr. Oz promotes. Many patients trusted Dr. Oz more than their own family doctors and this conflict hurt the doctor-patient relationship.

When we brought the policy to the American Medical Association, they reaffirmed existing policy instead of our resolution asking them to take action against inappropriate medical testimonials on TV. The AMA basically thought they were doing enough with existing policy. [bold added]
If I read this story correctly, Benjamin Mazer wants to sic the state regulatory apparatus on any physician who doesn't toe the line regarding what the government regards as proper medical advice. As harmful as pseudoscientific advocacy can be, that harm is nothing compared to that of subjecting to government scrutiny (beyond prosecution for outright fraud) everyone who voices an opinion.

Some time ago, on the related issue of nutritional advice, I commented that:
There is no reason consonant with the government's proper function of protecting individual rights for the government to restrict what individual citizens say or to whom they say it. That is, barring instances in which what someone says violates the rights of others (e.g., slander or fraud), it shouldn't be against the law, period, for anyone to say anything, including offering advice of any kind. People who hear advice have free will and minds of their own: They can accept or reject what they hear, and simply offering advice, good or bad, doesn't pick their pockets or break their legs.

On top of this, as John Stossel recently pointed out, the whole idea of the government relieving consumers of the need to think for themselves is bunk for several reasons. (Regarding the Stossel piece, I noted, too, that such "protection" does far more harm than any charlatan can by paving the road for them -- by putting people to sleep.)
As much as I sympathize with Benjamin Mazer, I find his agenda self-defeating and inimical to freedom. The government is simply unable to serve as a substitute brain for patients who refuse to think. Furthermore, by dictating what constitutes acceptable "expert" advice, it endangers the progress of medicine by both lulling patients who might otherwise take a more active role in their own care and by making experts who might have good reasons to depart from the orthodoxy reluctant to air their views.

-- CAV

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