As far as jobs enshrined at the top of America's impenetrable bureaucracy go, the head of the US Food and Drug Administration is pretty important. The chief of the FDA is responsible for setting the course of an organisation that oversees the safety and efficacy of a huge array of products that Americans use everyday, from makeup and mobile phones to food and drugs. In total, each year it oversees more than $US1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) in consumer goods.
Which is why it is pretty freaking terrifying that US president-elect Donald Trump is considering appointing staunch libertarian and Peter Thiel supporter Jim O'Neill to head the FDA. In the past O'Neill has proposed FDA reforms that would dilute much of the agency's regulatory authority. Among other things, he has advocated for the FDA to give up on vetting the efficacy of new drugs before they come to market. O'Neill, in other words, would like the FDA to stop performing one of its primary functions and let all of us act as lab mice. Such a move might allow drug makers to rake in a ton of cash on untested medical treatments that might not ever work.
"We should reform [the] FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety — and let people start using them, at their own risk," O'Neill said in a 2014 speech at the conference Rejuvenation Biotechnology. "Let's prove efficacy after they have been legalised."
Here are some other reasons why it would be completely insane to let this man oversee the health and safety of all Americans:
- He's a fan of settling independent libertarian societies at sea and serves on the board of the Seasteading Institute. "If we want to achieve freedom, seasteads are by far the best prospect," he once said.
- He is buddies with Peter Thiel, who would really like him to have this job. O'Neill is the managing director of one of Thiel's investment funds, Mithril Capital Management. Yes, we are talking about the Peter Thiel who thinks that maybe you can live forever by just injecting yourself with fresh blood from young people.
- He thinks organ donors should be paid, a troubling notion that essentially turns the human body into a commodity. "There are plenty of healthy spare kidneys walking around, unused," he said in a speech at a 2009 Seasteading conference.
- He thinks it's scientifically possible to develop treatments that reverse ageing. While it's true that anti-ageing medicine has made great strides in recent years, most efforts focus on slowing the decline of health in later years, not turning us all into Benjamin Button.
- He was surprised that people at the FDA like science. "As a libertarian, I was inclined to believe that the regulatory costs that the FDA impose kill a lot of people and provide a lot of harm to the economy, and I don't deny that… but one thing that surprised me is that the actual human beings at the Food and Drug Administration like science; they like curing disease and they actually like approving drugs and devices and biologics," he said in a 2014 talk.
- Oh yeah, and he doesn't have a medical background, as every FDA head has for the past five decades. He did serve as principal associate deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, though, so that's something.
The good news is that Trump's pick for FDA head is not yet official. Trump could still come to his senses. Also under consideration is Dr Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA deputy commissioner with a much more suitable background to run the agency.
Otherwise, seasteading might not be such a bad idea after all!