Further & More

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MEDICAL GLUE STUCK IN FDA MAZE

The life-saving capabilities of the medical glue cyanoacrylate, sold in a nonmedical form under trade names like Krazy Glue and Super Glue, have once again made the news. Two dramatic instances of the glue's use recently came to the media's attention. One involved a 2-year-old girl, the other a 51-year-old man; in both cases, doctors used the glue to "patch" life-threatening blood-vessel defects.

Though doctors have been using cyanoacrylate to save lives since the 1960s, when it was widely used to aid wounded soldiers in Vietnam, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved the glue for general use. As documented in a May 1980 REASON cover story ("What Ever Happened to Human Body Glue?")—later picked up by the TV show NBC Magazine—the FDA prohibited all medical use of cyanoacrylate in 1972. Using tests widely discredited by scientists, the FDA determined that the glue might cause cancer in laboratory animals. Finally, in 1976, the agency started reissuing permits for investigational use of the glue but still withholds general approval.

James A. Murray, spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, told REASON that the company's Ethicon division makes and distributes cyanoacrylate without charge to physicians "as a service," but the firm is not even seeking FDA approval for the substance. Citing all the long and costly tests and procedures that the FDA requires for a drug's approval, Murray said that commercializing the glue wouldn't be worth the time and expense of getting FDA approval.

The medical glue story is just one of many examples of the way FDA regulation can stifle the development and availability of valuable drugs. Everyone, of course, would like to choose drugs that are safe. But with the FDA making that choice for all of us, some of us are paying for it with our lives.

A RIGHT HOOK FOR HOME KNITTING

Reagan's Labor Department has come out of its corner for another round in the battle over home work, reported previously in Trends and in October's cover story on the latest in home work, telecommuting.

It was in 1943 that the Labor Department first banned home work in seven garment industries, because department officials said that they couldn't enforce minimum-wage laws when people do piece work at home. As the years passed, the ban wasn't much enforced—until four years ago, when the Labor Department cracked down on hundreds of home knitters in rural Vermont. A TV news show featured their plight, and the Labor Department under a new administration tried twice to rescind the ban on knitted-outerwear home work. Each time, the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) mounted a legal challenge.

The Labor Department kept up the fight and in November again lifted the ban on home knitting under a plan that it says meets legal objections. This time the department has established a registration system in which employers maintain a log of hours and products so that Labor's inspectors can make sure that minimum-wage laws are being observed.

"I'm tickled pink," home knitter Virginia Gray of Greensboro, Vermont, told the New York Times. And Robert Ruddock of the New England Legal Foundation, which has represented Vermont home knitters, told REASON, "The idea of any registration at all is bothersome, but what you have to do to register under this plan isn't difficult. And if this registration plan works for home knitting, why can't it work for the other six garment industries?" (Ruddock had told REASON last October that if any new Labor Department registration plan "is unduly burdensome for our clients, we'll go back to court.")

The ILGWU, however, was clearly not as pleased as Gray and Ruddock. Union president Sol Chaiken charged that the new legalization of home knitting would "open the way to sweatshop-style exploitation and create new competition for the factory garment industry." In mid-December, the union had not announced whether it would give up the fight or go for another round in the courts.

NOTES ON VOTES

Tax-revolt initiatives didn't fare very well in the November elections. Among the failures were a Michigan tax-slashing measure, a "Save Proposition 13" initiative in California, and an Oregon property-tax ceiling. On Guam, voters rejected a measure that would have cut territorial-government spending until a balanced budget was achieved.

One bright spot was Nevada, which approved a limitation on property-tax increases and a stipulation that a two-thirds vote is necessary to raise taxes. It will come up again, though, because Nevada law requires that it be approved by the voters a second time before taking effect.

Montanans were expected to vote on a constitutional convention to draft a balanced-budget amendment. But, as in California, the measure was struck from the ballot by the state's supreme court. Montanans were able to vote for decontrol of milk prices in the state, but the measure lost.

Alaskans voted to abolish their state's transportation commission, thus substantially deregulating their intrastate transportation. This was a victory for the Libertarian Party there, which had been working actively for deregulation.

The voters of Utah rejected a proposal to ban sex-oriented films on cable TV, and their North Dakota neighbors voted to amend their state constitution to protect the right to keep and bear arms. Oregon officials were eventually successful in keeping off the ballot an initiative to decriminalize marijuana.

Voters in Santa Monica, California, the home of one of the nation's most stringent rent-control laws and the stomping grounds of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, reelected Hayden to the state assembly in November. On the other hand, voters dismantled a tenant-activist majority on the city council. "Let's just say that the city is coming back to its senses," conservative councilwoman Christine Reed told the Los Angeles Times.

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