Sorrell v. IMS Health: Legal, Ethical, and Unjust

The case of Sorrell v. IMS Health, which the Supreme Court decided yesterday, sharply focuses the philosophical disagreement over the role of the courts in public policy. The legal question was rather straightforward; the ethical issues are complex. Is it the Court’s duty to make bad—but constitutional— laws work, or is its duty to follow the laws, and leave it to the legislature to fix their flaws?

This was a case about incompetent  lawmaking. Gladys Mensing and Julie Demahy had sued Pliva and other generic drug manufacturers in  Louisiana and Minnesota over the labels for metoclopramide, the generic version of Reglan. The drug, used to treat acid reflux, had caused them to develop a neurological movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. None of the generic drug’s manufacturers and distributors included warnings on the labels about the danger of extended use of the medication, even though the risk was known to them. Neither did the manufacturers of the brand-name drug. The problem was that the state statutes required generic drug manufacturers to included warnings about dangerous side effects, while federal regulations required generic drugs to carry the exact same label information as their brand name equivalent.  Continue reading