Right to Try

Congress Approves 'Right to Try' Bill for Critically Ill

President expected to sign legislation allowing earlier access to experimental medication.


Doctor with vial
Maska82 / Dreamstime.com

People with life-threatening illnesses may eventually see improved access to experimental drugs at an earlier stage of the federal approval process, thanks to a bill that passed the House today.

By a vote of 250-169, the House passed federal "Right to Try" legislation, pushed by the Arizona-based libertarian Goldwater Foundation. This bill allows patients with what the government classifies as a "life-threatening" illness or condition to get access to drugs that have completed the first stage of clinical trial but are not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Most states have such laws on the books, but the federal government itself has lagged behind them in giving citizens permission to try experimental medication sooner if they're dying.

It seems like it would be slam dunk to let people decide for themselves whether to take such risks when they've got nothing left to lose, but there are still legislators and experts who seem to think that this is going to result in dire consequences:

From the Washington Post:

During the House floor debate, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, warned that eliminating FDA oversight "will provide fly-by-night physicians and clinics the opportunity to peddle false hope and ineffective drugs to desperate patients." He said he was especially concerned that patients who have "life-threatening" illnesses such as heart failure and diabetes would be eligible for right-to-try, even if they are not close to death.

The law specifically requires that the drugs have made it through the first stage of clinical testing. It seems a bit absurd to suggest that the snake-oil salesmen are going to pop out of the woodwork and try to sell fake cures. It also does not mandate pharmacy companies provide them. It gives both sides of the equation options.

The bill passed the Senate by a voice vote last year. President Donald Trump declared support for the legislation in his last State of the Union address and is expected to sign the bill into law.

Below, ReasonTV covered the Right to Try movement in 2015: