Aiding AIDS Patients


The battle to get new AIDS drugs to the market has created a new alliance. Project Inform, an advocacy group for AIDS patients, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank, have joined forces to fight federal regulations that restrict the availability of experimental new AIDS drugs.

CEI has a history of forming coalitions with liberal groups on matters of mutual concern. In fact, CEI's tactics have often been reminiscent of Ralph Nader: filing petitions, publicizing government waste, and suing the government on behalf of victims of various regulations.

The two groups have now petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to change its regulations to encourage wider use of experimental drugs. Currently, patients cannot sign away their right to sue if they take an experimental drug that later turns out to be harmful. As a result, pharmaceutical companies keep useful drugs off the market, fearing lawsuits. CEI and Project Inform have proposed changing the rule to allow patients to sign informed-consent forms acknowledging the risks and giving up their right to sue.

The two groups also want the FDA to let AIDS patients buy, with a prescription, drugs that are safe but haven't been proven effective. Under existing regulations companies can sell only drugs proven both safe and medically effective.

Many liberal Democrats oppose such efforts. "Under the guise of fighting AIDS, the ideologues in the Reagan Administration are trying to dismantle the regulatory process," Rep. Ted Weiss (D–N.Y.) complained to the New York Times. Deregulation, he added, "would open the American public to great danger of being killed by dangerous drugs."

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman disagrees. "The FDA would still have the power to certify drugs. But if a doctor and a patient informed of the risks want to use drugs that have not been approved by the FDA, they could."

Project Inform Director Martin Delaney, no Reagan fan, notes, "AIDS activists are aligning themselves with deregulators. The liberals who want to be our friends are obstacles to FDA deregulation."