‘Right-to-try’ laws: Explaining the latest legislative trend in patients’ rights

Rights, News

Several U.S. states have passed new laws that give terminally ill patients greater freedom in obtaining experimental drugs should all other avenues of medical treatment fail them.

The Food and Drug Administration does have a process that allows terminally ill patients to gain access to experimental drugs through a compassionate use policy. However, critics say the process takes too long.

Where do patients have a right to try experimental drugs?

Arizona is the latest state to pass right-to-try legislation and the first to do so at the ballot box. Colorado was the first to approve legislation, which was enacted earlier this year. Other states that have passed right-to-try laws include Louisiana, Missouri and Michigan.

The push for legislation was primed by Goldwater Institute, the conservative-leaning libertarian think tank located in Phoenix, Arizona. In each state where laws were passed, there are restrictions on access to experimental drugs. Typically, those limitations are as follows:

  • Doctors can’t prescribe unapproved drugs until all other medical options have been exhausted;
  • Drugs must have passed the initial toxicity and dosage testing phases of the Food and Drug Administration’s clinical trial process;
  • Manufacturers are under no obligation to provide drugs for experimental use;
  • And insurers are not required to pay for the drugs.

Goldwater Institute is planning to pursue right-to-try legislation in 10 other states in 2015. States where pending and upcoming right-to-try legislation is currently in the works, is planned, or has attracted a grassroots movement include Nevada, New Jersey and Georgia, as well as Texas and Florida.

Both sides of the right-to-try debate

While legislation in those states that have passed right-to-try laws has received broad bi-partisan support, that’s not to say that all organizations have rallied behind the conservative push to pass these laws. Some organizations and professional medical practitioners are decidedly against it.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is one of them. One bioethicist calls right-to-try legislation “not compassionate but, actually, flat-out cruel.” David Gorski, managing editor of Science-Based Medicine and a surgical oncologist, is another health professional who views right-to-try policies as misguided.

Libertarians, small-government conservatives, and pure free-market ideologues tend to favor the legislation, as do many liberal civil liberties advocates.

One thing is for sure: if marijuana legislation is any guide, the likelihood that more states will give terminally ill patients the right to try experimental drugs when all else fails is as high as ever now that the gate has swung wide open.

Related articles: