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Silencing the silicone debate


The Food and Drug Administration, which until now has taken a responsible role in the silicone breast implant debacle, seems to have knuckled under to corporate pressures. Last week, it took punitive action against a member of the advisory panel charged with deciding if silicone-gel implants are safe.

Dr. Norman Anderson, a Baltimore physician, made the mistake of having an opinion on this issue. Worse, he has said he thinks the FDA should take breast implants off the market. That's not a shocking position since the safety of the implants has been in question for years.

The nation's largest manufacturer of silicone-gel implants had known for two decades about potential health problems from leaking and ruptured implants. Its researchers raised questions about the toxicity of the chemical used in the product. But the company never told the FDA.

There is more than enough scientific evidence to justify Dr. Anderson's caution. The FDA, however, has accused him of being "biased," and has yanked his vote on the advisory panel. Moreover, if Dr. Anderson makes another public statement, his non-voting membership on the committee could be imperiled.

A doctor with expertise has an obligation to speak out on matters of public health. Squelching that opinion distorts the policy debate and deprives the public of information to which it is entitled.

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