Right to Try

Scott Shackford on AIDS History and 'Right to Try' Activism at the Launch of Freethink



I'm pleased as punch today to play a very small role in the launch of media site Freethink.

If that media outlet name sounds familiar, it may be from one of two things (or both!): Freethink's Honor Flight Veterans Day documentary that we've highlighted here at Reason; or from Freethink Media partner Kmele Foster, formerly of The Independents and currently participating in "The Fifth Column" podcast with Matt Welch.

Today they've rolled out the first of a series of "shows," video segments about innovation in tech, policy, and culture, with some additional useful contextual articles.

Here's Freethink's stated mission:

Each week, we release a new video featuring passionate innovators who are solving humanity's biggest challenges by thinking differently. From aerospace engineers in the Mojave Desert to entrepreneurs in South America's biggest slum, our videos give you an intimate look at not only what they're doing but also why they're doing it, the obstacles they face, and what motivates them to keep driving forward.

We're betting that after you watch these stories, you'll come away with insights and inspiration you can use to make a difference in your own way.

Today's release is titled "Superhuman," a package about the scientific, medical, and engineering innovations that are helping cure diseases once thought incurable, replace body parts, and otherwise improve and prolong human life.

My own contribution is a short background piece explaining how AIDS activism in the late 1980s and early 1990s served as the spiritual precursor to the current "right to try" movement. That's the increasingly successful effort to grant citizens with life-threatening conditions to right to try to get access to potentially helpful drugs before the full government testing process has been completed. Here's an excerpt:

In the late 1980s, Americans were dying by the thousands from the opportunistic infections that came from full-blown AIDS. There was a single drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration permitted to help prolong the lives of people with AIDS. This first drug, azidothymidine—or AZT—was approved for use in AIDS patients in what was a remarkably fast process for the FDA at the time: 25 months.

But AZT had some very serious side effects that caused other health threats, and not all AIDS patients could endure the treatment. The lack of "officially" approved treatment options gave rise to a large black market to provide access to non-permitted and foreign medicines in order to bypass the FDA.

This black market was most famously highlighted in the 2013 Academy Award-winning film "Dallas Buyers Club," based on real-life drug smuggler (and AIDS patient) Ron Woodroof. Woodroof was not unique. There were groups of people across the country working to bring drugs into the United States from Mexico, Europe, and elsewhere, regardless of the FDA's approval process.

Read my full piece here. And watch and read the other components of "Superhuman" at Freethink here. Some additional pieces are contributed by a name many Reasoners may find familiar: former Reason Associate Editor Mike Riggs.