Like most people, I have had family members and friends suffer incurable illnesses. In some cases, we have been aware of experimental medications that have seen positive results in early tests. But the drugs have not been available, lacking final approval by the federal Food & Drug Administration.
That is obviously a source of great frustration for terminally-ill people and their friends and families.
Making those drugs available in certain circumstances is the objective of HB94, the “Right to Try” legislation sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. In my opinion, this is one of the best proposals in the current legislative session. It has the potential to expand medical freedom, while also saving lives. It just makes sense.
The concept is simple: allow terminally-ill patients to work with their doctors and drug companies or medical device companies to use potential life-saving therapies that haven’t received final approval by the FDA.
Proper precautions would be taken. Drugs must have passed Phase I trials, which means the FDA has generally determined the medication is not harmful, although it hasn’t indisputably proven the drug is beneficial. Most drugs at that point in the process have already undergone years of development and positive results have been demonstrated in various tests.
Patients would also have to sign documents accepting responsibility and absolving doctors, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies from any liability.
While some people may question why anyone would want to take a non-approved drug, it must be remembered that these patients are terminally ill. They have tried everything else. If a medication has some possibility of helping them, and it won’t hurt them, why not try it? It can give some hope to patients and families devoid of hope.
And what about the cost of these drugs? The law requires drug companies to provide the medication at cost. That might still be quite expensive, so the chief backer of the legislation, Jonathan Johnson, the chairman of Overstock.com and Promote Liberty PAC,has formed a foundation to help cover the cost of experimental medication for Utah patients. He said he didn’t want the law to be just a “rich man’s solution.”
Johnson has recruited several top business leaders to govern the foundation, and they are raising money. Financial support will be available to Utah patients with a household income of $75,000 or less who meet the access criteria of the legislation.
All in all, this is an elegant, private-sector solution to a serious problem. Nothing is more frustrating to terminally-ill patients than knowing potentially life-saving drugs are out there, but can’t be used because of slow approval processes and high costs. This legislation uses no tax money, reduces government red tape, and provides hope for desperate families. It should enjoy broad support and win swift approval.