Update on Right to Try Law

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MARCH 29, 2018

  Many of you are familiar with the Right to Try law that has been making its' way through Congress. This law would allow terminally ill patients to get around any FDA restrictions or regulations and obtain drugs, almost always drugs that are still in Clinical Trials. It is pretty hard to object to this; how do you tell a dying person that s/he can't make one more attempt at extending life?  Bearing the names of four patients, the bill has been passed by both houses and now awaits the President's signature.

  What do you know about this or what should you know? Stepping back from the heart-felt reactions, this gets complicated. One side argues that the law is meaningless, useless, and may actually harm patients while it certainly will impact the established scientific system of clinical trials. The other side argues that the federal government has no right to limit or interfere in what should only be a decision made by the patient and her doctor. It is easy to understand both positions, 

  From my professional perspective, it is vital to always support hope. If hope means trying one more drug, with (and this is a big if) full understanding of the possible risks and likely limited benefits, then patients should certainly be permitted to do so. From a larger policy perspective, I worry about cost and damage to the individual/family as well as to the system. Some people feel that our clinical trials system is overly rigid, but it has worked pretty well over decades and insured that Americans are prescribed drugs with a proven record of benefit and an understanding of the potential risks. If we begin making exceptions to who and how a drug is tried, what does that do to our understanding and conclusions? There is also a feeling that the whole discussion is political and really about regulation or lack thereof in our system.

  This is a pro and con from The Cancer Letter: 

  • Few Washington insiders doubt that a bill that allows terminally ill patients to circumvent FDA as they pursue Hail Mary pass therapies will become the law of the land
  Read more from both points of view: 


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