The U.S. Senate has approved—by unanimous consent—Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and pushed by the libertarian Arizona-based Goldwater Institute. It mimics legislation in 37 states that allows for people with life-threatening illnesses earlier access to medication being evaluated through the very lengthy Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.
To be clear, this "right to try" legislation does not create a free-for-all when it comes to access to experimental medicine. The bill requires that a person have a life-threatening illness or disease and that the drug in question has already completed the first phase of clinical trials for the FDA.
Furthermore it does not require drug manufacturers or dispensers to provide access if they don't want to, and they cannot be held liable if they refuse (and they can't be held liable if the drug causes harm except in cases of misconduct or negligence). And as a compromise for critics worried about the ethics of letting people access drugs early, drug manufactures who do provide medicine as part of this process will need to report to the government any adverse effects.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where two Republican congressmen have already introduced companion legislation. In a release praising the passage of Johnson's bill, the Goldwater Institute notes how state-level right-to-try laws actually help:
Right to Try is saving lives already. In Texas alone, Dr. Ebrahim Delpassand has helped nearly 100 patients under his state law, providing a treatment that has completed clinical trials but is not yet fully approved for advanced stage neuroendocrine cancer. Many of these patients were told they had only months to live but are still alive a year later, thanks to Right to Try.
Reason has been covering the "Right to Try" movement for years now. Below, watch a ReasonTV explanation video from 2015 about the efforts: