Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The right to self-medicate?

Interesting argument presented by Alex at Marginal Revolution about the liberalization of prescription drugs:
Citizens have rights of self-medication for the same reasons that they have rights of informed consent. The prescription drug system has bad consequences and it privileges regulators’ and physicians’ judgements about a patient’s health over the patient’s judgement about her overall well-being. Most troublingly, the prescription drug system violates patients’ rights.
Instead, I propose that prohibitive pharmaceutical policies, which are a kind of strong paternalism, be replaced by nonprohibitive policies that enable patients to obtain whatever medicines they choose while promoting informed consumer choices by making expert advice readily available.
I'm not sure that I disagree with this argument, but I found it a bit shocking how lightly Ms. Flanagan shrugs off concerns over addiction.
Since addicts are autonomous and able to give informed consent for treatment, including their drug of choice, they ought to be given similar authority to access treatment, including their drug of choice. One way to mitigate the potential harm of addictive pharmaceuticals would be to designate some addictive drugs as "behind the counter" and enable addicts who do not wish to use addictive pharmaceuticals to precommit to not using by enrolling in a voluntary programme. 
I don't feel comfortable saying that, "well, there is a study saying that addicts are able to give informed consent; therefore we can dismiss concerns about increased access to highly addictive drugs leading to increased addiction rates."  This brings up an interesting argument about whether public health laws (and other laws, for that matter) should be designed for the lowest common denominator or the highest. I like a lot of libertarian ideas, but the place where the most hardcore libertarian ideas often lose me is when they seek to legislate for the highest common denominator, with little regard for the lowest.

1 comment:

  1. I do agree with Alex

    Not a way of seeing medication I ever hear mentioned where I live however
    in Britain
    where I guess the NHS and the way it enables people to access professionally prescribed drugs makes a big difference to the way people tend to think
    in terms of money
    persuading a professional to prescribe something
    and getting yourself convinced that it is what your really want and need
    will cost you nothing