On the Benefits of Regulation

Frances Oldham Kelsey died this week, at the age of 101. A life well lived for so long is remarkable enough. What she did for American families in the 1960s should never be forgotten.

I remember, as a young man, the photos of Thalidomide crippled babies coming out of England and other European countries.  Ghastly then, ghastly now.  Kelsey, almost single handedly, and against the usual onslaught of pressure tactics, smear campaigns and obfuscation by the drug’s producer, the William S. Merrel Company, prevented Kevadon from entering the American market.

“She was called a fussy, stubborn, unreasonable bureaucrat.”

And I have no doubt, there was much said about her female incompetence.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey receiving the nation’s highest federal civilian service award in 1962 from President John F. Kennedy, saying she had “prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities.”

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey receiving the nation’s highest federal civilian service award in 1962 from President John F. Kennedy, saying she had “prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities.”

For her part:

“I had the feeling,” she wrote after a meeting with company executives, “that they were at no time being wholly frank with me, and that this attitude has obtained in all our conferences, etc., regarding this drug.”

So next time an anti regulatory fanatic pounds the drums of regulation crippling the American economy, remember Frances Kelsey.  Thank her, and shout her name. Smart regulators are thin protection in a world of greed, untested new products and powerful interests.

See more at NYT 

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