Being Too Safe Revisited

Under the rubric “All that’s Science is Not Astronomy”, consider the case of Bendectin, which had been used for decades for morning sickness. Could it cause birth defects? Was its potential implication in birth defects worth pursuing in court?

[T]he Bendectin litigation eventually drew thousands of plaintiffs and cost Merrell Dow several hundred million dollars in defense costs (though not a penny was ever paid to a claimant, the courts universally overturning the 40% or so of jury verdicts favoring plaintiffs.)Despite FDA approval, Bendectin, the only drug proved safe and effective in combating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, remains unavailable in the U.S. (but is available everywhere else), having been taken off the market at the height of the litigation to avoid further lawsuits. Studies have shown that the rate of limb birth defects in the U.S. has not been affected by the removal of Bendectin from the market, but hospitalizations for severe morning sickness have soared.

This is also known as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And what are we to think about the apparent rise in food allergies and autism in children? From the comments:

My best friend has a boy who has been allergic to any nuts from childhood. If he even touched anything that had nut oil, even the slightest bit, he would have trouble breathing. Twice, he went to the emergency room because he unknowingly came into contact with nuts. (which should quell any notions that it’s ‘in his head’). He was so fearful for most of his boyhood that he refused to eat anything that was not made at home by his parents. Now that he’s older, he can tolerate a small amount of nuts.So the nut allergy isn’t a phantom.

No, it’s not. But what exactly is it? What if it’s only a function of better reporting – then can we even afford to address this problem directly at this time? If we do, then who pays, and who goes without (and who decides)? Can we say, like we failed to do with Bendectin, that the cure isn’t worse than the disease?

Truly, I don’t know. I do know that faith in science, especially bad science, is terribly misplaced. Ultimately, that’s the same as putting your faith in fallible men. Very fallible.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Economics, politics, post-modernism, Science

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