The state of Colorado has signed a law giving terminally ill patients the right to use experimental drugs. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the ‘Right to Try’ bill into law in Fort Collins.
It’s a proposal being advanced in several states by patient advocates who are frustrated by the amount of time the federal approval process takes for experimental drugs in the pipeline. Missouri and Louisiana also passed similar legislation recently.
The bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic State Rep. Joann Ginall, was absent from the signing ceremony in order to tend to her older brother, Tom, who is suffering from a rare blood cancer. “For people who are facing death and have one last hope, they should have a choice to try every possible drug,” Ginall stated.
The new law allows patients and doctors to work together to secure experimental treatments with the permission of a pharmaceutical company. Insurance companies are not required to pay for the treatment, and drug manufacturers can choose whether to charge for the medication or to provide it to the patient free of charge.
The bill also won support from state Senator Irene Aguilar, who is also a physician. “When you’re terminal and there’s a drug out there that might help you, it can seem that the obstacles to get that drug are insurmountable.”
Aguilar dubbed the measure the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ bill, after the movie about a terminally ill AIDS patient who managed to smuggle medicines from abroad, due to them not being legal in the US.
Opponents of the piece of legislation say it is an ill-advised effort that circumvents federal law while also undermining the drug development process, and threatens to harm more people than it helps by providing access to medications that haven’t been proven safe and effective.
The law doesn’t require drug companies to provide any drug outside federal parameters, and there’s no indication that pharmaceutical companies will do so. Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist who is also editor of the blog Science Based Medicine, says the ‘right to try’ proposals are simply feel-good measures that won’t help many patients.
“These proposals are built on this fantasy that there are all these patients out there that are going to be saved if they could just get access to the medicine,” he said. “In reality, the patients that might be helped are very few, while the number of patients who could be hurt by something like this are many.”