Thursday, March 16, 2006

Plan B: Grade F

President Bush picked a new commissioner of the FDA yesterday, Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach. Dr. von Eschenbach has been the acting director since last September, and he is likely going to remain the acting director, and the acting director only, for the foreseeable future.

The reason is Plan B - the controversial emergency contraceptive pill that has politicians, and the abortion debate participants, at loggerheads. As long as the Plan B dispute remains unresolved, Democratic senators have vowed not to confirm Dr. von Eschenbach, although with his nomination pending, Dr. von Eschenbach can continue to head the FDA indefinitely as acting commissioner.

The real losers here are the women denied easy access to Plan B, a product that all scientific evidence suggests is safe and effective and only political dogmatism has prevented from attaining OTC status.

But this news brings no prizes for the rest of us either. The FDA is charged with evaluating, regulating, and monitoring the safety and efficacy of the substances that we put into our bodies. While Bush bickers with senators in Washington, the FDA is left languishing under a culture that allows politics to inform scientific decisions about health and safety, and that lacks a confirmed commissioner who is capable and willing to bring change to the administration.

As the Plan B dispute continues to drag on, the only thing that's clear is that both the politicians and the food and drug administration deserve a failing grade for their handling of this situation.

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