Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
December 7, 1998
Free speech is good medicine
Nanny State mentality must be rejected

Free speech is the essence of our society. Without the ability to freely speak one's mind and make claims of the correctness of one's perspective, no other freedom is secure.

In a society based upon the premise of liberty, free speech is restrained by free minds. Individuals are able to discern the important from the whimsical, the rational from the ludicrous. Under the precepts of liberty, while one is allowed to make their claims freely, no one is compelled to provide a forum or even listen.

While much lip service is paid to this belief in respect to political dialogue, there is a trend to limit free speech in our medicinal dialogue.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has quietly begun limiting the speech rights of Americans. For as disturbing as this may be from an ideological perspective, it portends ominous possibilities for people's very lives.

Under the guise of "protecting" consumers, the FDA is moving to prevent sellers of natural vitamins and similar products from making claims of potential benefits. Even if one could constitutionally justify the FDA's ability to limit free speech in the name of "protection," it is clear that such restrictions only serve to harm consumers.

This harm comes from limiting the information which consumers have before them. It foolish to think that any one doctor is aware of everything on the market which can help a patient maintain their good health, or recover from illness more rapidly. As a physician, I have always preferred working with an informed patient. They would sometimes be aware of new treatments, medicines or advances that I may have not yet studied. Sometimes that information would lead to new treatment for that patient, other times not, but the more information and choices available to the patient, the better.

It is also foolish to think that the motives of the FDA are as pure as some would have us believe. As an entity run by politicians, the FDA is susceptible to the same political shenanigans as other government agencies. Friends of politicians get preferential treatment in military construction, tax-code revisions and highway projects.

In the same way, the large pharmaceutical companies are also big campaign donors to both parties. Their goal? Not highway projects, but FDA rules designed to ensure they maintain large profits and keep upstart companies out. Even though reliable scientific data indicates a particular naturally occurring substance can safely be of benefit to some consumers, there is little incentive for the large companies to manufacture those because the profit margin is so narrow, especially compared to that of synthetic drugs.

Opposition to the FDA's unilateral control of our nation's medicinal drug market is seen as heretical to the concept of government-knows-best.

Even assigning the most innocent of motives to the FDA's designs on free speech and commerce is disturbing, for it reflects the ever-growing Nanny State mentality of Washington, DC. Lawmakers and bureaucrats are convinced that they are smarter, better informed and care more about all Americans than do those Americans themselves.

After all, goes the pro-FDA reasoning, how can consumers be protected from dangerous products by anyone but the government? Given how often the FDA grants approval then later revokes their endorsement after the item is found unsafe, the better question might be how to protect consumers from FDA-approved products.

Should a manufacturer produce an unsafe product -- whether it is a vehicle or a drug -- then injured consumers can take their grievance to civil court for redress. And if false claims are made in an attempt to get sales, the charge of fraud can be levied by those aggrieved.

Most Americans look for the seal of approval from the AAA, Good Housekeeping, U.L., Better Business Bureau and multitude of other private sources when shopping for goods and services.

To think the conscientious American cannot also examine the claims of vitamin manufacturers and make informed decisions for personal use in consultation with her physician, family, friends and others is recklessly condescending.

The growing Nanny State assumes Americans are mindless sheep in need of the omnipotent wisdom of the government in every aspect of their lives. In reality, what America need is less government and more individual responsibility.

Project FREEDOM.