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Ron Hart Columns: Spitting mad over crackdown on DNA testing

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Spitting mad over crackdown on DNA testing

December 3, 2013 - Orange County Register


By Ron Hart

We now have a government in Washington that feels it is in charge of everything, yet responsible for nothing.

When our government is not in charge of something, it inserts itself into the enterprise, as is the case with the Food and Drug Administration's recent attempt to halt the sale of 23andMe DNA tests. Our government looked around the value-added business of personal genetic diagnostics and decided one thing was missing: Government did not have a say-so.

This is more about government control than it is about what is good for us. Studies show the FDA has caused more deaths through its slow-moving bureaucracy than it has prevented. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith stated in "Free to Choose Medicine," inherent in the one-size-fits-all regulatory bureaucracy is the incentive to delay rather than approve a drug or medical procedure that could save lives. FDA bureaucrats assume everyone has the same view of risk that they do and that they know more than the doctor or patient.

In the case of 23andMe, a Silicon Valley startup, the FDA based its injunction against the company's genetic testing kit, basically a test tube you spit in and mail back, on the claim that it's a "medical device." If it wants you, government will get you.

Competition protects consumers more than government does. Like all federal agencies, the FDA is politically motivated. It has an agenda. And, like Obamacare, it is also a mess: a case of the left hand not knowing what the far left hand is doing.

Environmentalists concerned about losing salmon due to overfishing of rivers forced the FDA to approve genetically engineered salmon. If they can engineer a fish that can swim upstream against powerful currents, the Democrats will run those fish for Congress in 2014.

The FDA was politically motivated to quickly approve the "Plan B" morning-after contraceptive for women. I'd like to market a morning-after pill for men; it would change your DNA and your cellphone number the next day.

Innovation is about trial and error, risk and entrepreneurship. In almost all successful startups that have had a positive influence on mankind, the government was not involved. Amazing things happen when government gets out of the way.

The Google-backed 23andMe survives in the genetics testing arena where others failed because of its deep-pocketed founders. Billionaire founder Sergey Brin's wife (they are currently separated, as Brin will be from half of his money if they get divorced) spent millions having his personal DNA sequenced to determine what diseases he might be prone to, so he could be proactive in prevention. He used that model and made it available to the rest of us for just $99.

As an accomplished hypochondriac, I had the test done and found that it agreed with many of my family health risks. It was of value.

It also identifies relatives for you. I have connected with several relatives through 23andMe. We Harts can now keep up with family members through this process and not our traditional way monitoring police scanners.

DNA has dogged politicians from Thomas Jefferson to, recently, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Democratic VP nominee John Edwards asked his assistant to steal a diaper from his baby mama in order to run a DNA test, while claiming he was not the daddy. It turned out that both John Edwards and the diaper were full of the same thing.

The Supreme Court has ruled that human DNA cannot be patented but that artificial DNA created to correct inherited genetic defects can be. Every time there's a new technology, the law has to adapt. Folks were probably worried when law enforcement began using fingerprinting in 1858, back when John McCain and Harry Reid were freshman senators.

Liberals want to control scientific data and interpret them as they please. As with global warming data, they do not trust anyone to form conclusions but themselves. And Democrats want laws on everything. It does not matter what the law is, as long as it is mandatory, and unions are exempt.

Hard religious-right Republicans are suspicious of science for fear it might contradict the Bible.

We libertarians are left to defend the individual's right to do with his DNA what he damn well pleases. Each person perceives value differently and should be able to spend his money accordingly.

I was back recently in my small Tennessee hometown. A buddy from high school picked me up in his $1,000 car and drove me to his $20,000 house to pick up his $25,000 bass boat to take me fishing. He could not have been a happier person.

2011 Benjamin Franklin Award Winner!

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Columns by Ronald Hart. Ron grew up in Tennessee and began writing a column for his hometown paper in 2002. He attended The University of Memphis and the Institute for Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University. Ron graduated Magna Cum Laude and was elected student government president. Upon getting his MBA, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. He was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by then Governor Lamar Alexander and is now a private investor. He appears on CNN and has been quoted in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. His columns reflect a rare combination of Southern libertarian views and humor. They have been described as "Lewis Grizzard meets P.J. O'Rourke with a dash of Will Roger's horse sense". His columns are carried by 30 newspapers with a total weekly circulation of approximately 1 million readers.