Colorado is officially the first US state to allow terminally ill people to take experimental drugs – even those which a couple of years away from getting federal approval. The State’s Governor, John Hickenlooper signed the so-called ‘Right To Try’ bill into law in Fort Collins.
It was passed unanimously after emotional testimony from relatives who described distressing stories about trying to get federal permission to access experimental medicine.
“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,” said Senator Irene Aguilar, who co-sponsored the controversial bill.
Irene Aguilar dubbed it the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ bill, after the Hollywood film about an AIDS patient who smuggled medicine from Mexico because it was not cleared for use in the US.
Similar ‘Right To Try’ bills are to be signed in Louisiana and Missouri.
In November on this year, voters in Arizona will decide whether to pass the legislation, which allows drug companies to provide experimental medications outside of clinical trials.
Colorado’s bill has received a careful ‘no comment’ from doctors’ groups, hospitals and health insurers.
It was amended to clarify that healthcare providers and insurers are not liable for any adverse effects if a patient chooses to take experimental drugs.
Patients and relatives who support the new law say they are willing to accept any amount of risk if there is a chance of prolonging life.
Among them is Keith Knapp, from Sacramento, California, whose wife Mikaela died last month from kidney cancer.
The Knapps tried in vain to access new drugs through existing “compassionate use” guidelines, which require permission from the US Food and Drug Administration.
But there are many critics of the bill.
Dr David Gorski, a surgical oncologist, says “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.”