Would Satan Run a Better FDA?

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Conservative obstetrician and FDA advisor Dr. W. David Hager says he (also, God) played a central role in the FDA's decision to keep emergency contraception from going over-the-counter:

Speaking at the Asbury College chapel in Wilmore, Ky., Hager said, "I was asked to write a minority opinion that was sent to the commissioner of the FDA. For only the second time in five decades, the FDA did not abide by its advisory committee opinion, and the measure was rejected…

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

Long, angry Nation piece here.
Condensed Washington Post version here.

NEXT: So Long, Dennis

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  1. Great. So now one person’s religious opinions are barring women from the freedom to manage their own lives. The government is in your bedroom, America, and it is shaking its head in disapproval. For shame, for shame.

  2. Re: the the story in The Nation:

    WHAT!?

  3. Welcome to the Theocracy of the United States…

    I don’t intend to trample on religion, in general, but I’m getting sick of this sanctimonious piety crap. Get big brother OUT of the bedroom. Repeal the blue laws and let us fornicate in peace!!

    Live free, fight and fornicate!

  4. Religion contains a lot of powerful concepts, and powerful language. Some people have trouble handling that. They end up feeling, through the use of this language and these concepts, as though somehow that power is THEIRS instead.

  5. Between this, the evolution in schools debate (which is happening about an hour from where I sit), and the general resurgence of evangelical theocrats, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t even offer intelligent commentary anymore. I can’t be the only one reduced to sputtering, “Godamnit, what the fuck is going on in this country,” can I?

  6. Wait, you mean that “free exercise” doesn’t mean I get to freely force others to exercise my religious beliefs? What a rip-off!

  7. The thing that gets me about religionists is how they think government is God’s hammer.

  8. So the FDA leads to the inadvertent politicizing of medical science, and an unintended consequence is the deliberate “God-ifying” of same?

    Swell.

  9. I can’t be the only one reduced to sputtering, “Godamnit, what the fuck is going on in this country,” can I?

    No, you aren’t.

  10. God is certainly an iron.

  11. I wonder: how in the world did the poor, weak God of the Universe take care of himself before defenders like W. David Hager came along?

    I’m an atheist, of course, but if I WERE religious I wouldn’t worship any god who was such a pussy he couldn’t run things without the government’s help.

  12. mediageek: Where do you find the “inadvertent” and “unintended”? Regulation of drugs and medicine was always a “moral hygeine” issue, hand-in-hand with the temperance movement. It was always God and the State; that was the whole point of Pure Food and Drugs — moral uplift.

  13. Grant,

    That, and having fewer people sickened and killed by snake oil, spoiled meat, and adulterated food.

  14. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I read somewhere that the original purpose of the FDA or its predecessor was simply to ensure that medicine sellers were truthful in their claims about their products; too many people were selling flavored alcohol and claiming it would cure anything under the sun. Why can’t we just go back to THAT version of an FDA? Let me take whatever the hell I want; just be honest about the side effects and let ME, not the government or W. David Hager, decide whether or not it’s worth the risk.

  15. Apparantly God, in His Infinite Wisdom, no longer sees the need to be personally involved in the the process of differentiation of the pious from the wicked.

    It is only clear that He should wish that this activity be outsourced to the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States of America, and thus He would naturally assign unto them the authority to define appropriate standards of piety and dispense His Divine Judgement accordingly.

  16. Russ: Perhaps it saves Him on overhead?

  17. This is about our [Evangelical Christian] culture being under attack.

    Sure, pal. And Hitler was just looking for a little breathing space…

  18. Further to joe, you all really ought to read the Nation piece. Skim for the filthy bits if you like.

  19. Hager cast himself as a victim of religious persecution in his sermon. “You see…there is a war going on in this country,” he said gravely. “And I’m not speaking about the war in Iraq…

    Well, clearly, that wouldn’t be the war in this country, would it, dumbass?

  20. Sometimes Hager would blithely shift from vaginal to anal sex. Davis protested. “He would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to have anal sex with you; I can’t feel the difference,'” Davis recalls incredulously. “And I would say, ‘Well then, you’re in the wrong business.'”

    Priceless. Scratch a cultural conservative, find a super-freak.

  21. 150 years ago, Hager would have been one of those guys who refused to administer anaesthesia to women in labor because the Bible said women should bear children in pain.

  22. What we are seeing is the oldest heresy, what I call the Heresy of the Sword. It is the idea that the role of religion is to force people to live according to religious principles, and thereby avoid Hell.

    It started with the people of Israel, who expected the Messiah to come in a flaming chariot leading angles with fiery swords, who would kick ass and take names, establishing His followers as the religious and secular rulers of the world.

    Jesus spent his entire ministry telling everyone from His closest followers to the religious leaders of the day that this was wrong, that salvation is about individuals making a voluntary commitment to love God, themselves, and their neighbors. It is not about following a set of rules to stack up enough gold stars to get you in the gate, and specifically not about forcing someone else to follow said rules.

    Too bad “Christians” like Hager, who think they have all the answers, aren’t listening to the question.

  23. OMG, you mean a politician’s opinion has affected his decision making process?
    Where did I leave my pitchfork and torch…

    Seriously though, I don’t like the decision and that’s why we have elections.

  24. Jennifer,

    The modern FDA came from two places: 1), the people who were selling cocaine and opium as curealls for various diseases, and popular outcry over the meatpacking industry. The gist was: if you’re selling medicine, food or cosmetics, it must contain what the package says it does, and it can contain only reasonable amounts of impurities. Since then, their mandate has expanded and, in the ralm of pharmaceuticals, they now have two primary responsibilities. They determine whether drugs and medical devices have a risk/benefit analysis the agency finds acceptable; and they determine whether drugs are being manufactured in a manner likely to result in a high quality drug product.

  25. Anombebus- We do, but not for appointees. As far as unelecting those who do the appointing-that ship has sailed, at least for a few more years.

  26. JBK-That was my impression as well. It strikes me that a more efficient way to achieve the same goal would be to establish a testing service similar to the Underwriter’s Labs.

  27. Number 6 and JBK-
    I’d settle for an FDA that just stuck to its original mandate. Let people buy raw milk and cheese if they wish, so long as it is not falsely labeled “pasteurized.” Let people take drugs with nasty side effects if they wish, so long as the side effects are clearly mentioned beforehand.

  28. You know, the Hebrew for Satan can also be translated as “accuser” in english. Anybody else suspect that is who this guy really worships?

    But hey, Kerry would have been worse, Right?

  29. #6,
    I would assume we are supposed to visit our wrath upon those who appointed them.
    Whether or not the individual is appointed or elected, you still need to wait for the next election (in most cases).
    Speaking of, I wonder if it would be possible to ‘recall’ an appointment popularly.

  30. Anombebus-True, we do have to wait to unleash our wrath. In the meantime…bitch!

  31. Would Satan Run a Better FDA?

    Are you certain that Satan isn’t running it now? Remember, Satan is an expert in deception.

  32. “My sense is that he saw [my narcolepsy] as an opportunity …”

    Just as the Christian right in general views our national narcolepsy — a sort of willful ignorance about the Bush administration’s furtherance of their theocratic agenda — as an opportunity to screw us in the ass.

  33. Jennifer,

    You are right to some to extent, and I agree completely when the consumer can be notified of the risks and benefits of a product. But as they hammer into us over and over in drug manufacturing, many of our end customers are given no choice. Choices are being made for them by others, and not always by people the consumer would have designated. The FDA serves to provide a reasonable assurance to doctors, hospitals, etc. that if they play by rules, they will not be bankrupted or imprisoned if something goes wrong. An organization like UL could do the same, but not with same level of protection from liability. Thus, there would be fewer medications available.

  34. I bring to you the Republican Glow Stick of Faith. Bend and submit.

    Sorry, I’ll stop now.

  35. JBK-
    But the FDA and the government is in many respects the REASON consumers have no choice. I can’t choose to buy the morning-after pill (not that I need it) because the government has said I have to first find and pay a doctor to prescribe it, and then find and pay a pharmacist to hand it out. (Why the hell couldn’t I just find and pay the manufacturer, or any storekeeper who chooses to sell it?) If I am in pain I can only use the painkillers approved by the FDA, rather than grow my own marijuana and opium (as was done in the past) and control my own health.

    And as for liability–just clearly state on the label what the effects are, and caveat emptor. Alcoholics have been known to drink themselves to death, but that doesn’t mean we need the FDA to protect distilleries from any resulting lawsuits.

  36. Pardon me for asking the obvious, but isn’t “Plan B” just a high does of progestin?

    Couldn’t the same goal be accomplished by taking an extra few doses of the “the pill” at the same time?

    Sorry to change the subject a little, but it seems that if you can brew up a “Plan B” yourself, why does it matter that the FDA won’t make it over the counter. Stupid, sure, and way too much mixing of religion and government. But can we defeat these asshats ourselves through civil disobedience?

    Please advise.

  37. Jennifer,

    That’s not the kind of limits on choice I’m talking about. I’m talking about when your roommate sees you passed out on the floor and calls the ambulance. Maybe you just drank too much and didn’t wake up when she kicked you. But you are now going to be injected with all sorts of drugs to prevent respiratory failure, kidney failure, all kinds of stuff. You will not have been conscious the whole time. Wouldn’t you like some assurance that there is minimal amounts of chloroform or methylene chloride or acrylamide or whatever in the drugs you are being injected without your knowledge?

  38. Larry A’s point is excellent:

    What we are seeing is the oldest heresy, what I call the Heresy of the Sword. It is the idea that the role of religion is to force people to live according to religious principles, and thereby avoid Hell.

    It started with the people of Israel, who expected the Messiah to come in a flaming chariot leading angles with fiery swords, who would kick ass and take names, establishing His followers as the religious and secular rulers of the world.

    You know, I once spent a little time in a bookstore checking out the “Left Behind” novels just to see what all the fuss was about, and it’s clear to me that even today a lot of Christians view God as a wrathful figure.

    Jesus spent his entire ministry telling everyone from His closest followers to the religious leaders of the day that this was wrong, that salvation is about individuals making a voluntary commitment to love God, themselves, and their neighbors. It is not about following a set of rules to stack up enough gold stars to get you in the gate, and specifically not about forcing someone else to follow said rules.

    Yeah, but Jesus was just some long-haired hippie preaching peace and love. He wasn’t a real Christian!

    And Skeptikos also has an excellent point:
    You know, the Hebrew for Satan can also be translated as “accuser” in english. Anybody else suspect that is who this guy really worships?

    Damn good observation!

    Finally, regarding Hager: That is one sick fucker. He sees himself as God’s tool, and he’s half right. He’s a tool for sure.

  39. JBK-
    But ensuring that there weren’t poisonous substances in products sold for medicinal use falls in with the FDA’s original mandate to begin with.

    You’ve probably heard people say the (perfectly true) statement, “If aspirin were invented today it would never get FDA approval.” If I take aspirin and get sick because it turns out I’m one of those people who just can’t handle it, or I die because I’m dumb enough to take a whole bottle, that’s not for the FDA to get involved in; if I take aspirin and get sick because there was arsenic mixed in with the pills, THAT is a legitimate FDA concern, as the company has no business selling arsenic pills without warning people.

  40. KERRY WOULD HAVE BEEN WORSE!

  41. “If aspirin were invented today it would never get FDA approval.”

    Hell, if caffeine were discovered today it would be illegal. Just think of all those poor souls addicted to a stimulant produced by Colombian farmers!

    I have never been to Colombia (and I won’t go there as long as the place is messed up by the drug war and the civil war that it enables), but I can only assume that people must be pretty hyper in a country whose main exports are stimulants.

  42. I blame women’s suffage for all of this nonsense.

  43. Jennifer,
    The problem is, there are always toxic substances in drugs. And in injectables, which is what I’m familiar with, they can be quite nasty. The manufacturer sets acceptable ranges, and the FDA approves or denies them. If UL did something like that, they would be in real hot water the first time someone died on a drug they had approved. Therefore, fewer drugs available, due to liability concerns.

    I agree with you as far as anything sold direct to consumers. I think everything should be OTC. But there has to be someone determining whether a drug is safe/effective enough to be used, and for the life of me I can’t figure out anyone who can do it besides the feds.

  44. …it seems that if you can brew up a “Plan B” yourself, why does it matter that the FDA won’t make it over the counter.

    If birth control pills were available OTC, you’d have an excellent point. They aren’t — and if you already had a prescription for them, you probably wouldn’t need emergency contraception in the first place.

  45. “…and if you already had a prescription for them, you probably wouldn’t need emergency contraception in the first place.”

    True, and just playing the devil’s advocate here… But I’m sure I could get a number of women I know to “loan” me a couple birth control pills, and I’m a guy.

    So, can anybody address the technical merits whether it’d work to just use a high number of plain-jane birth control pills?

  46. Wow. That article on Hager really turned my stomach. So, a man who (allegedly) repeatedly raped his wife for decades is on the board because he is such a caring medical provider for women. Sick.
    It actually shocked Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly into silence. That’s a first, I think.

  47. well, he had to do something about the situation. she kept falling asleep!

  48. Kill the FDA. Now. It provides no benefits that are worth the crap it does.

  49. I’m getting the feeling that many evangelicals are harboring an unacknowledged, yet strong, desire to have something like a temporally powerful American evangelical pope, an ultimate, infallible religious authority with unquestionable command over worldly laws and affairs of the nation.

    And they want the president to play that role, with the executive branch playing the part of his Holy See.

  50. Would Satan Run a Better FDA?

    Certainly wouldn’t be a wore FDA…

  51. Say now … Is this ber?

    Or wore?

    Ber?

    Or wore?

  52. So, can anybody address the technical merits whether it’d work to just use a high number of plain-jane birth control pills?

    Sorry, I thought your question was rhetorical. Yes, plain-jane birth-control pills will have the same effect with the right quantity and timing. Unfortunately while I listen to enough Loveline to know the basics, I don’t pay quite enough attention to remember the exact protocol.

  53. “WHAT!?”

    Joe, even a broken clock is right twice a day. ­čÖé

  54. So, a political guy goes into a chapel and claims that God is using him to do His work, and this is a sign of imminent theocracy? Has this not been going on since, say, the founding of the US?

  55. crimethink,

    It hasn’t. There is a difference between saying there is a “God”, and that you are the person he speaks thru, and we must listen to you without discussion.

    It’s the difference between Ben Franklin and the Crown Prince of the House of Saud. Do you know, the first amendment?

    Do you really not know the difference between saying I believe in God, and saying You must share my specific belief in God, and live by those rules?

    Establishment of specific religious dogma is not the same thing as encouraging belief in “god”.

  56. It’s the difference between:
    2+2=5
    and
    2+2=4

  57. So, can anybody address the technical merits whether it’d work to just use a high number of plain-jane birth control pills?
    Sorry, I thought your question was rhetorical. Yes, plain-jane birth-control pills will have the same effect with the right quantity and timing. Unfortunately while I listen to enough Loveline to know the basics, I don’t pay quite enough attention to remember the exact protocol.

    Premise: The purpose of the FDA is to insure access to safe medications.

    Test: Is it safer to have a box on the counter that says, “FDA approved, effective if you make a booboo, instructions and warnings provided?” Or is it safer to force women to rely at some unidentified point in the process on some unspecified number of some kind of BC pill they have to beg, borrow, or steal?

    Result: Pass? Fail?

  58. Skeptikos,

    For every Ben Franklin in American political history, there’s been at least one William Jennings Bryan. Don’t pretend that some people haven’t tried, and sometimes succeeded, imposing their religion on others in their local community, and even the country as a whole (eg Prohibition). It’s not a new thing.

    And, of course, just because this guy claims that his minority report to the FDA is a vital part of God’s economy, does not mean that it was accepted on its religious [de]merits. I seriously doubt his report based its opposition to the pill on religious issues.

  59. Skepticos,
    Every democracy is a theocracy to a degree.
    I think we still need to probe why it is religionists think government is God’s “Salvation Army.”

  60. Every democracy is a theocracy to a degree.

    That is an interesting insight. It’s another reason not to be too enamored with democracy. (I’d rather call it “majoritarchy.”)

    Larry A: What we are seeing is the oldest heresy, what I call the Heresy of the Sword. It is the idea that the role of religion is to force people to live according to religious principles, and thereby avoid Hell.

    Well put. “The Heresy of the Sword” — I like that.

    I’ve had thoughts along similar lines, but I formulated them as one of “Stevo’s Laws” — to whit: “Thou cannot march people through the gates of Heaven at bayonet-point.” There’s nothing I can force you to do that will improve your soul — that’s in your own keeping.

    If you’re violating the rights of another person, that’s another matter. And whether that might apply in this case that sparked this thread — if emergency contraception is an abortificant — I don’t have time to discuss. Nor the matter of the pharmacist having the freedom to follow his/her own conscience (and to be fired by an employer exersizing that same freedom). Nor the complication of the gov’t setting up a monopoly by only allowing licensed pharmacists to sell certain drugs. But I think the basic idea of the Heresy of the Sword is a good one, and more theists should be aware of it.

    As you put it:

    Jesus spent his entire ministry telling everyone from His closest followers to the religious leaders of the day that this was wrong, that salvation is about individuals making a voluntary commitment to love God, themselves, and their neighbors. It is not about following a set of rules to stack up enough gold stars to get you in the gate, and specifically not about forcing someone else to follow said rules.

    Properly understood, Christianity is all about individual accountability. It’s the ultimate bottom line.

    BTW, those who think religion is neceissarily opposed to liberty should read Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom: Man’s Struggle Against Authority. Some of you probably have. Written in the 1940s, it’s a seminal work in modern libertarian thought.

    Lane called the idea that human actions can be “controlled” by a winged god with an arrow, or evil spirits (or the Party, or by reading evil books or looking at evil pictures) “the old pagan religion of the Old World.”

    The truth is that each individual is responsible — and ultimately accountable — for his own acts. Lane said there were “three great attempts” to bring this revolutionary, pro-freedom idea to the world:

    1) Judaeo-Christianity. (She basically counts various events from Abraham’s conversion to monotheism up through the ministry of Jesus as a single “attempt.”)

    2) Islam. (This may seem unlikely in light of current events, but read on.)

    3) The American Revolution.

    Lane also notes that each attempt at spreading this revolutionary, pro-freedom idea was subsequently twisted and subverted by the very institutions each “attempt” helped create — churches with corrupt leadership, religious legalism, and our own government.

    But the idea itself lives on. If the third attempt fails in America it will arise somewhere else, because by its nature this truth cannot be suppressed. Lane’s closing words — I wish I had them memorized so I could quote them — are all the more stirring because they were written at a time when the U.S. and its allies were locked in a a hot war with totalitarianism, with the end yet to be decided.

    It’s a good book.

    (Good thing I only had time for a short note.)

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