The politics of personal freedom

Last week, the major television networks and news outlets covered the dramatic congressional hearings in which Pat Bechler gave a moving testimony about the loss of her son, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who died of a heat stroke during spring training.

Although a medical examiner determined that the ephedrine weight-loss supplement Xenadrine was not responsible for the young pitcher’s death, the incident has become the focal point in the drive to do three things: 1) ban all ephedra products; 2) pass the Senate bill that would give the FDA unnecessary new authority; and 3) portray the supplement industry as devious and unscrupulous.

During her testimony, Mrs. Bechler was distraught, and no wonder. Few things in this life are more difficult than losing a child, and our hearts go out to her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bechler’s tears were used by the TV reports to put an emotional spin on this situation that is already high on misconceptions and low on logic.

The overriding question in the reports I saw over two days was this: Should ephedra be banned? The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2003 wasn’t even mentioned. And I’m sure the casual viewer thought they were watching a congressional hearing about ephedra, rather than what it really was: a hearing about a new law designed to broaden the authority of the FDA and restrict the dietary supplement market.

This issue has become highly politicized. And in politics, issues live and die based on how they’re perceived. Meanwhile, the television producers play right along, knowing that experts making valid points about an herbal product that’s safe when used as directed just isn’t good television. The result: the FDA now has the potent image of a mother in tears to help promote a new law that will expand its powers at the expense of our freedom of choice.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson

Health Sciences Institute