Written by Vikram Ramesh
Every year, 70 million CT scans are performed in the United States. In many instances, these scans are performed on healthy patients for the purpose of detecting cancer. However, CT scans are particularly controversial- they can expose patients to a potentially dangerous level of radiation that could lead to other complications. For laypeople, navigating this argument can be particularly hard, as doctors, advocacy groups and manufacturers have predictably different positions on the issue.
Even the Food and Drug Administration, (FDA) who has a responsibility to consolidate such diverging viewpoints into policy, is torn on the issue. Agency scientists have long argued that radiological medical devices pose a substantial threat to public safety and that stricter guidelines are urgently needed.
On the other hand, some Agency officials, sympathetic to the concerns of huge corporations like General Electric (GE), have repeatedly suppressed or ignored the warnings of scientists. Some have even gone so far as to spy on the FDA’s own scientists, fearing that the scientists would leak confidential data corporations like GE have given the FDA. However, the surveillance was not limited to sensitive trade secrets, also targeting grievances that the scientists had with their work environment, with members of Congress, lawyers and even President Obama.
Although the surveillance operation is disturbing and raises some serious privacy issues, a bigger concern is the credibility and independence of the FDA’s approval process- a process that seems to have been severely compromised by large corporations seeking to gain hundreds of millions of dollars by selling products without concern for their effects on public health.
On one side, you have scientists, who have warned the FDA repeatedly about the risks of overusing CT scans on healthy patients, as well as the need for more and better information from device manufacturers like General Electric. On the other, you have FDA officials who are wary of tightening regulations on these devices for fear of offending GE and other device manufacturers.
As this battle intensifies, it is vital that we take scientists’ objective recommendations more seriously and that we make the FDA’s approval process more transparent and credible. It is also important that the nexus between the FDA and Big Business be broken. GE, for example, has spent nearly $489,000 lobbying in the “Pharmaceuticals/Health Products” space since 2009. And, in early 2011, President Obama named GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt Chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness
After all, Big Business is only out to make a quick buck-they could care less for the safety and welfare of patients so long as it doesn’t hurt their bottom line.
Vikram Ramesh is a Political Science/Pre Law major from the University of Iowa where he is actively involved in Student Government, the President’s Council on Teaching, the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee and the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. A Senior, he is interning over the summer with Common Cause’s DC office to work on issues he is passionate about such as Campaign Finance and Corporate Accountability. Originally from Bangalore India, he likes playing Tennis and Soccer when he isn’t busy catching up with the 24 hour news cycle.