Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are You for RU486

Today the House of Representatives passed a motion to remove the veto power of the health minister over approval of whether the abortion inducing drug RU486 can be used in Australia. Based on the reading and history of the debate, I think that this was the right decision.

RU486, or more correctly Mifepristone is a drug that affects hormones and can be used in combination with other drugs to induce an abortion. It has been used in many European countries since the late 80s, early 90s, and was approved by the US FDA in 2000.

In Australia, the equivalent of the FDA is the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). They are an expert body set up to evaluate goods that are used in treating and diagnosing medical problems. Basicly, before a drug can be used in Australia, the TGA has to approve it. Their authority comes from parliament, but they have the final decision in what drugs are allowed.

Now in around 1996 the current government was wanting to sell off part of the national phone company Telstra. Due to the balance of power at the time, they had to do a deal with an indpendent senator, Brian Harradine. Brian Harridine was quite conservative, and part of the deal was a change to the act that established the TGA, giving the health minister a veto over the TGA regarding RU486.

Fast forward to today, and in past weeks there has been a bit of an uproar about the whole thing because recently a few doctors have started trying to go through the process to get permission to prescribe the drug to their patients. This process includes getting approval from an ethics commitee at a local hospital who take into consideration the use the drug will be put to, the nature of the drug, the competance of the person requesting the permission and other factors. If this stage is approved, it goes through a few more similar steps at higher levels culminating with the TGA. Now with most drugs, if the TGA said yes, that would be it. But RU486 has a ministerial veto.

In response to this a group of women senators from several parties put forward a bill to remove the ministerial veto. The major parties allowed a conciense vote on the matter and it passed both houses without ammendment.

My main reason for agreeing with this decision is that it reverses something that created a special exception for this one specific drug, and while not bypassing allowed the decision of an expert group put in place by the government to make decisions regarding the safety of drugs to be ignored. The Health minister is not an expert on medicine, and the TGA's decision is that of a group who are qualified in the field and have researched the safety and effectiveness of the drug in question, and we should allow them to do the job that we have asked them to do.

I will admit that initially I was opposed to the bill for similar reasons, in that I thought it was changing the process for political reasons, but now that I know that the bill is just reversing something that was what I this bill was I now stand behind it.

I also want to point out that the main reason behind why I support this bill does not alter if you are for or against abortion, so long as you feel that if you set up a process to evaluate if things are safe or not, you shouldn't set up ways to sidestep that process for things you don't like.

One argument that was put forward as to why the minister should have a veto over this drug is that it different from something that just cures a cold, because it causes an abortion. The drug is used under the supervision of a doctor, and so in practise involves a similar amount of consultation with a doctor as a clinical abortion.

Finally, I will state that while I support the right of a woman to get an abortion, I don't think it is something that should be done lightly, or without considering all options.

End Post
Writing time: 1 hour 45 minutes (a friend came over for about an hour or so in that time)
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: The Prologue from Fiddler on the Roof

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