The plot thickens! Or it tries to anyway. Turns out radical improbability does not work as a thickening agent unless you’re Douglas Adams, so this plot is still pretty soupy. Because, see, the legal side of things isn’t the only bit that’s getting increasingly implausible. Our heroes’ current theory is that the whole thing is an inside job so that… big pharma can make more money? Really? I mean, we’re completely okay with corporate executives as villains, but corporations absolutely need stability and order to survive—they’re legal fictions, after all—so the suggestion that a corporation would instigate a potentially society-ending cataclysm beggars belief. If this is what Davies has left in terms of plots, it’s a good thing for Doctor Who that he left.
Anyway, on to the law.
I. Prescription Regimes
So the big plot seems, at this point, to be a gambit by big pharma company PhiCorp to enable them to sell drugs by the boatload, not just by increasing demand because people aren’t dying, but by… eliminating prescriptions??!?
Seriously. Oswald Danes is co-opted by PhiCorp as part of a PR campaign to back legislation to end the need for prescriptions, making everything over-the-counter.
This is a terrible, terrible idea, for three related reasons. First, pharmacology is hard. There are literally thousands of drugs out there. Most Americans are probably familiar with about a dozen or so. Knowing which drug is useful for which disease or symptom is something people spend years in class trying to learn. Letting the public have full access to the pharmacopeia would, at best, result in lots of people taking drugs they didn’t need. But the more likely outcome is lots and lots of people getting really really sick, either because they aren’t taking the drugs that they do need, or they’re taking drugs which, either by themselves or in combination, are actually making them sick. Take too much acetaminophen (aka paracetamol or Tylenol), and you can absolutely destroy your liver in a matter of hours. And that’s just for starters. Digitalis is a common cardiac medication used to regulate heart rate in people with congestive heart failure. But the stuff is acutely toxic, and taking it when it isn’t needed will actually kill you. Of course, that isn’t true post Miracle Day, but this episode did establish that people can still become vegetables if oxygen to their brain is cut off, so heart block is still a bad thing. There’s a reason the stuff is prescription only.
And this is to say nothing about creating drug-resistant bugs. There are dozens of antibiotics, and physicians use them in combination and rotation to avoid treating the same bug with the same drug all the time, hoping that in so doing they’ll slow the rate at which bacteria adapt. The general population doesn’t know how to do that. Indeed, the general population tends to think that antibiotics are magic drugs that Make You Better, despite the fact that they have absolutely zero effect on viruses and not all antibiotics are effective against all bacteria. We’d probably see a run on antibiotics as people take them to ineffectively combat the common cold.
But this all leads into the second reason this is a bad idea, a reason with which even evil PhiCorp would agree. Namely, products liability. If a consumer is injured or made sick by a manufactured product, the manufacturer is potentially liable for the resulting injuries. Currently, pharmaceutical companies are significantly shielded from liability because prescription drugs can only be administered by a physician. Because prescribing drugs is a deliberate act, the act of prescription serves to break the chain of causation in cases where the physician prescribed the wrong drug, wrong dosage, etc. Eliminate that step, and the pharmaceutical companies are liable directly to the public for failing to adequately label their products in such a way that the average consumer will know how and when to take them. Right now, the main ways that pharmaceutical companies can be liable for their products is 1) there was a manufacturing defect, 2) they knew about serious side-effects they didn’t report, or 3) the label to the physician was somehow insufficient. Setting up a system where you can make more money selling drugs by exposing yourself to potentially unlimited products liability claims does not strike us as a great move.
And that leads into the third reason: writing labels for the general public is a lot harder than writing labels for physicians, who already know a thing or two about medications. The FDA would clearly get involved here, but exactly how is a problem, because right now, pharmaceutical labels for prescription medications don’t need to include information on when to take drugs, just how to take them. Selection is left up to physicians’ expertise. Which is great, because there’s no way in hell your average consumer is ever going to be able to deal with the kind of labels which would be necessary here. It being basically impossible to come up with such a label—essentially, to cram an entire pharmacology course into a single, easy-to-read label—labeling would likely not serve as an effective shield for liability. In effect, declaring open season on drug purchases is declaring open season on products liability lawsuits. While the plaintiffs’ bar would probably be okay with that, the rest of us, including pharmaceutical companies have compelling reasons to disagree.
So thus far, we’ve got a major plot point premised on a completely insane legal move. Way to go, guys.
II. We Totally Called It
Now for some self-congratulation. We totally called the issue of immortality being an issue for life sentences. And we had a post on the implications of functional immortality on homicide crimes back in December. One is tempted to ask whether the writers were reading the blog, because production of Miracle Day doesn’t seem to have begun until January 2011. Hmm…