Saturday, September 03, 2005

Plan B for Plan B: no plan

In other news . . .

It's nice to report something good about a high federal official, even if the nice thing is that they quit on principle. Much nicer if we could say that a high federal official was actually doing something as a matter of principle, but we'll take what we can get. We are speaking, of course, about FDA Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood, head of the agency's woman's health branch. The matter of principle involved political interference that overruled her scientific staff by postponing indefinitely the decision whether to approve over-the-counter sales of an emergency contraceptive ("morning after pill," trade name Plan B).
"There's fairly widespread concern about FDA's credibility" among agency veterans as a result, Wood told The Associated Press hours after submitting her resignation Wednesday.

"I have spent the last 15 years working to ensure that science informs good health-policy decisions," Wood, director of FDA's Office of Women's Health, wrote in an e-mail about her departure to agency colleagues. "I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended by the professional staff here, has been overruled."


This time around, Wood said the final decision was made not in FDA's usual manner but "at the commissioner level ... where most if not all of the professional staff were excluded."(AP via Wired News)
Plan B is essentially a high dose birth control pill that works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. To be effective it must be taken within 72 hours of conception. If women have to get a prescription first, there is extra expense, an additional barrier and a loss of efficacy as time from unprotected sex increases. Extensive review by FDA scientists established it was safe for OTC sale. It has run afoul of anti-abortion wingnuts who consider an unimplanted fertilized zygote to be a child. They oppose IUDs for the same reason. FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, who had won confirmation after a promise the agency would make a decision by September 1, was "out of town."

The agency issued a statement saying Dr. Wood's decision was "unfortunate." You bet. Especially for the 3 million or so women who have unintended and unwanted pregnancies each year.

Unfortunate. Yes. Very unfortunate.