Have a Heart

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Since Barney
Clark received the first Jarvik-7 artificial heart in 1982, more
than 350 people have used the device, mostly as a temporary measure
until they could receive a heart transplant. In addition to his
totally artificial heart, Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the Jarvik-7,
has developed a ventricular assist device (VAD), the Jarvik 2000,
which augments the diseased heart’s ability to regulate blood
flow. Jarvik’s company, Jarvik Heart, develops and manufactures
medical devices for the treatment of congestive heart failure.

Indeed, Robert
Jarvik should go down in history as a giant of modern medicine,
a man whose ingenuity, whose ability to merge mechanical engineering
and medicine have given hundreds of people a longer life and have
improved the quality of life of many thousands more, including those
who will benefit from the efforts of researchers who will build
on Jarvik’s work. As it turns out, however, Robert Jarvik is
actually a dire threat to public welfare, or so Congress would have
us believe.

In 2006, Jarvik
began appearing in television and print commercials for Pfizer Pharmaceutical’s
cholesterol-lowering medication, Lipitor. Because of the scientific
research that links heart disease and high cholesterol, as well
as the fact that Jarvik is a scientist who has studied the human
heart extensively, he would seem a perfect fit as a spokesman for
Lipitor. U.S. congressmen John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Bart Stupak
(D-Mich.), however, don’t see it that way.

The congressmen
believe that Jarvik appears to be giving medical advice in the ads,
something which he is not qualified to do under current laws. Despite
his medical degree, Jarvik is not a licensed physician but a medical
scientist. One must wonder, however, what qualifies Dingell and
Stupak to question the qualifications of anyone in the medical field
other, of course, than their positions as U.S. congressmen.

However, the
issues here are deeper than simply determining whether politicians
are qualified to determine who should be giving medical advice and
who should not. (By the way, Pfizer submits its advertising concepts
to the FDA for review in advance of beginning its ad campaigns.)

Pfizer hired
Jarvik not as a medical expert but as a spokesman. In the ads, Jarvik
simply states what Pfizer, on the basis of scientific studies and
research, claims Lipitor does. Moreover, Jarvik specifically states
that consumers should consult with their personal physicians before
using the drug.

Having Jarvik
in the ads certainly carries more weight because of his status,
but isn’t that exactly what one would want in a spokesman?
Someone who the consumer believes is credible and knows what he
is talking about? In any case, unless Pfizer or its spokesman commits
fraud by knowingly making false statements, what does it matter
whom Pfizer employs as its spokesman? As long as the statements
that Pfizer and its representatives make about Lipitor are not fraudulent,
Pfizer’s choice of spokesman is none of the government’s
business.

For the sake
of argument, however, let us assume that Jarvik is giving medical
advice in the Lipitor commercials. Does the fact that he is not
a licensed physician inherently disqualify him from offering such
advice? Using Dingell and Stupak’s logic, a licensed general
practitioner is more qualified to offer such advice than a research
scientist who specializes in cardiac function and whose work is
on display in the Smithsonian Institution.

All too often,
licenses simply represent government sanction, nothing more. Despite
what politicians claim, licensing laws are not designed to protect
the public, but to eliminate competition by protecting those individuals
and companies already established in the specified field. This holds
especially true in the heavily regulated world of medicine. Nobel
Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, for example, called the
American Medical Association a government-sanctioned guild that
drives up the cost of medical care by limiting the supply of physicians
and reducing or eliminating competition from other medical practitioners,
such as chiropractors.

Jarvik’s
plight, along with paternalistic and often corrupt practice of licensing
laws, illustrates the attitude of modern politicians towards the
relationship between the state and its citizens. While the Founding
Fathers believed that government’s main responsibility was
to protect its citizens from external threats, too many current
politicians believe that the government must protect us from ourselves.

Do Dingell
and Stupak really believe that thousands of Americans are going
to run out and start taking Lipitor just because they saw some guy
on TV pitch it? While a small minority may do so, most people will
not. In addition, most people do rely on their personal physician
for medical advice. Perhaps Dingell and Stupak believe that doctors
will swoon after seeing Jarvik on television and begin prescribing
the drug like maniacs because they are awed by his celebrity. Are
politicians then protecting us from our own doctors? Let’s
hope not.

There may be
a political component at play here as well. Pfizer recently announced
plans to close three plants in Michigan, Dingell’s and Stupak’s
home state. Dingell’s and Stupak’s actions may be an attempt
to punish Pfizer for that decision. However, whether it is political
revenge or paternalism that motivates Dingell and Stupak, it is
the nanny state that has empowered them. The government should treat
Americans like grown-ups fully responsible for their own lives and
decisions, not children who need to be watched over and told what
to do. As C.S. Lewis said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised
‘for the good of its victims’ may be the most oppressive.”

Pfizer should
be able to choose any spokesman it wants to promote its products.
It is still the consumers’ responsibility to educate themselves
about the products. Fortunately, because it is in doctors’
best interest to keep their patients healthy and happy, most competent
doctors will research the benefits and risks of drugs and can usually
give their patients expert advice. Can the politicians who seek
to control our healthcare system say the same?

If liberty
means nothing else, it means that individuals should be in control
of their lives and therefore should be free to voluntarily associate
with whomever they wish and to seek advice from whomever they wish.
Instead, politicians and bureaucrats continually infringe upon these
freedoms and force their will on us through government edict.

The fact that
the government now has Robert Jarvik in its crosshairs just reinforces
what many of us have long known. The State has no heart … and
no head.

February
7, 2008

Glenn
Jacobs [send him mail]
is a writer residing in Tennessee.

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