Medical ethics

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
26 November, 2021

If you’ve ever had concerns about economists’ ethical commitments, relax.

It could be worse.

Just consider medical ethics.

Pfizer recently stopped its trial of anti-Covid treatment Paxlovid, currently in international approval processes.

The pill was just too good.

It became really obvious really quickly that Paxlovid is really effective. Patients given the drug shortly after infection were 89% less likely to go to hospital or die, compared to those given placebos.

Continuing to give placebos was obviously unethical. It condemned the control group to a massive increase in the risk of hospitalisation or death.

That all sounds eminently reasonable. The drug proves effective, so just give it to everyone.

But that’s where medical regulatory ethics give us all a nice kick in the pants.

The drug is still in the American approval process – as well as new Zealand’s. It is deemed unethical and actually illegal to provide it until it is approved. Except as part of a clinical trial. But the trial had to end because it was unethical not to provide the drug to the control group.

If the trial had continued, people registering for the trial would have had a 50/50 chance of getting Paxlovid. Now they have a 0% chance of getting Paxlovid until the bureaucracy stamps some forms.

A modern Kafka could have written the story. But it’s sadly not fiction.

Of course, it gets worse. Just look at Covid vaccines for kids.

Canada, the EU, and America have all approved Pfizer’s vaccine for kids aged 5-11. Doses are going into arms in Canada. As of the middle of this week, over three million doses had been administered in the US. It is going fine.

But New Zealand’s medical system forbids my 11-year-old asthmatic daughter from being vaccinated until every form is filled in, every number checked, and every bureaucrat satisfied.

It could be one of those old Tui billboards. “Medsafe will find something the Americans, Canadians, and the EU didn’t? Yeah, right.”

By the time Medsafe approves, the Technical Advisory Group advises, Cabinet considers, and orders arrive, Covid will be everywhere.

Surprisingly enough, kids are allowed to get Covid without Covid having to go through any ethical approval process at all.

But it would be unethical to give her a half-sized adult dose in the meantime.

It’s time to cut economists a bit of slack. It’s the medical types who are the real moral monsters.

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