The Danger Within Us

America's untested, unregulated medical device industry
and one man's battle to survive it

by Jeanne Lenzer

Reviewed by Mira de Vries

A man falls victim to a mind-controlling device implanted in his brain by a mad inventor. This is the stuff of science fiction.

A man falls victim to a device implanted in his brain by a licensed neurosurgeon. This is the subject of Lenzer's factual book.

Dennis Fegan fell victim to a device implanted in his brain, not to control his mind but to control his disorder. He suffers from epilepsy which according to Lenzer is "an electrical firestorm [that] sweeps over most or all of the brain." Desperation is what tempts individuals to fall prey to such dangerous quack remedies. But what about his neurosurgeon, not the least literate among us, how could he have been so gullible? And he is not the only one. The device has been implanted in the brains of tens of thousands of people across the globe, hundreds of whom died as a result. The survivors suffer nightmarish consequences.

Lenzer's research leads her to the conclusion that:
"The reality of medical science is that the vast majority of highly touted, seemingly promising cures---whether they take the form of new drugs, new therapeutic regimens, new surgical techniques, or new medical devices---simply don't work ... [and incur] enormous costs in terms of wealth wasted, resources squandered, and lives lost."
Regarding the regulators who ostensibly protect us against the costly quacks we can speak of mind control, not by a gadget implanted in their brains, but by bribery and browbeating. They are further crippled by legislation inspired by lobbyists for the industry they are supposed to be regulating. In a chapter named "Regulators in chains" Lenzer explains how "revolving door" employment works:
"Industry employees and executives would leave their jobs to work for the FDA just long enough to promote policies preferred by their companies before returning to their industry positions"
not to mention that all political parties are beholden to the medical industries for financing their campaigns.

As usual in this type of publication the trouble starts at the end with a proposal for remedying the status quo. We discover a political position not characterized by clarity of thought. Lenzer blames capitalism and free markets for the "medical-industrial complex" and the failings of modern healthcare in the US. But the wealth and power of these institutions is precisely not derived from capitalism or free markets. She states:
"In the early 1900s, patients paid their doctors with a few dollars or by barter, with gifts of, say, chickens, or occasionally by performing a chore."
She probably means 1800s, because by the early 1900s state licensing of physicians and drug prohibition delegating the oversight of drug use to doctors had begun laying the foundation for the scorned "medical-industrial complex." Licensing and regulation are the antithesis of the free market.

Lenzer condemns "the intertwined forces of scientific exploration, medical need, government regulation, and good old-fashioned capitalist greed..." but greed is certainly not unique to capitalists. Countries that are openly and proudly socialist like my own where some form of socialized medicine has existed since the late 1800s face the same healthcare problems including the greed and corruption. To her the grass is greener in Canada and Europe, but though healthcare may be a little cheaper here, it is not safer.

She proposes a system for more and better regulation, putting in Fegan's mouth the opinion that government can be "a potential force for good ... if it can be disentangled from the powerful arm of industry." Well, it can't. Government is expensive and industry is where most of the money comes from. Regulation has never worked, it isn't working now, and it never will. If healthcare is to improve, we will have to start deregulating, putting power back into the hands of the individual.

For starters, we need to roll back state licensing of physicians. Lenzer approvingly quotes urban planner and political scientist Phil Thompson: "we can't build a [healthcare reform] movement if everyone shrinks when a doctor walks in a room." What inflates the doctor? Power. From what does s/he derive it? His/her license. In a footnote, Lenzer advises that in her system "the only consideration would be what each doctor believes is best for his or her patient..." Who wants his/her doctor's beliefs to be the only consideration? In her model she keeps healthcare consumers shrunk.

One of the professional privileges that culminates in a medical license is a medical education, denied to outsiders. Medical education should be accessible to everybody, included in every school curriculum, like literacy, history, and math. It could have helped Dennis Fegan suspect that "electrical firestorm" is metaphor, used to describe a phenomenon that is not understood, and cannot be fixed by inserting an electric gadget into his most central, complex, important, and delicate organ: his brain.
The one recommendation Lenzer makes which MeTZelf wholeheartedly endorses is abolition of patents for drugs and medical devices. As she explains well, these patents are responsible for irrational earnings, and thus the incentive to engage in morally corrupt and harmful practices. Abolishing patents would be deregulating.

Except for her politics, this is a superb book, readable and riveting. Contrary to most healthcare, it is well worth the price...

Copyright MeTZelf