The Corner

Protecting the Public from Itself

I have posted before on the relentless war being waged by the Regulatory State, assisted by Big Biotech, against small personal-genomics start-ups. There seems to be nothing the federal government fears more than that citizens might get to know their own genomes.

A few weeks after I posted that, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing titled “Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public Health.”

Obscure subcommittees of obscure congressional committees don’t get much media coverage. This one should have, if only for the brazen Nanny State arrogance on display.

• Henry Waxman:  “Do these companies have researchers that are adding to the information that will help us have these breakthroughs? … Are they adding to the scientific knowledge? … If they’re all closed down then so be it. … They don’t really serve a useful purpose.”

• Bob Latta**:  “I don’t think that the companies that are in question here would, if they disappeared tomorrow, would impact the scientific community and our desire to do research into genetics. … This is nothing more than the snake-oil salesman revisited again. … It’s very difficult to protect the public from itself in its desire to be healthy …”

My italics there.

Where does one start with all that? Is it now the case that a company can be stomped out of existence by the federal government if it does not do scientific research? Where does that leave American business? Last time I checked, National Review has no functioning research labs.*** So can Reps. Waxman and Lotta shut us down? Apparently they think they can.

Since when has a business had to serve “a useful purpose”? Who gets to define “useful purpose”? Henry Waxman? Good grief.

When Apple Computer Inc. was incorporated in 1977, did it serve “a useful purpose”? If IBM had bought a few congressweasels and got the nascent Apple shut down, would “so be it” have been an appropriate response?

I’m not a big consumer of snake oil myself, but I didn’t know it was an illegal substance. And please note that these personal-genomics start-ups are not selling any medications. They’re scanning your genome and telling you what’s on it. Where is the snake oil? If I ask my dentist to inspect my teeth and write up a report on their condition, am I asking him to sell me snake oil?

“It’s very difficult to protect the public from itself in its desire to be healthy …” So stop the hell trying, you arrogant jerk.

That isn’t even the worst of it. As a matter of fact, at least one of the personal-genomics start-ups, 23andMe, actually does do significant reseach work. They had presented this fact to a panel a couple of days before the congressional hearing. One member of the panel listening to their presentation was the FDA’s Dr. Jeffrey Shuren.

So when Dr. Shuren was called to testify under oath before Waxman, Latta, and Co., he set them straight, right?

No: He went for Olympic Gold in bare-faced dishonesty. Watch the video posted here.

“Prosecutions for inaccurate Congressional testimony are rare,” notes that report. Pity: Dr. Shuren looks like a prime suspect.

From my afore-linked June 23 article on NRO:

There is a sense in which DNA scanning is, for Obama and his people, what stem-cell research was to George W. Bush and his people: a zone of science seeded with ethical and ideological landmines.

As with stem cells, the work will get done anyway. A genomics start-up put out of business by Ernie and his pals will move to Singapore, whose government, far from harassing them, will give them a lab, a grant, and a tax break.

The U.S.A. is a real nice place to have a job in government, and still a pretty nice place to work for a big corporation — especially one designated “too big to fail.” For the start-up entrepreneur in an ideologically-fraught field, however, the environment is increasingly hostile. Why do they even bother?


** Yes, the Nanny State impulse is perfectly bipartisan. As I said in my original piece, this is Big Govt. and Big Biotech stomping on the little guys.

*** The attempt to clone Cosmo was shut down after a most unfortunate accident in the lab.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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