On Friday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill into law that allows terminally ill patients to bypass some Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that deny access to experimental treatments.
Rep. Jason Grenn (I-Anchorage) introduced House Bill 43 (HB43) last year. The law gives terminally ill patients access to medicines not yet given final approval for use by the FDA.
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits general access to experimental drugs. However, under the expanded access provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. 360bbb, patients with serious or immediately life-threatening diseases may access experimental drugs after receiving express FDA approval. HB43 creates a process to bypass the FDA expanded access program and allows patients to obtain experimental drugs from manufacturers without first obtaining FDA approval.
On May 30, 2018, Pres. Donald Trump signed a federal Right to Try Act into law. At the time Trump inked his signature on the bill, patients in 39 U.S. states already had access to experimental treatments thanks to state Right to Try laws. The federal Right to Try Act is an example of the feds arriving late to a party. The movement started nearly five years ago when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the first state Right to Try bill into law. State action drove this change, and it’s almost certain Congress would have never passed Right to Try if the states hadn’t acted first.
The new federal law does not render the state right to try irrelevant. While the federal law creates a uniform standard, state laws provide doctors, drug manufacturers and patients important protections. As Goldwater Institute spokesperson Jennifer Tiedemamm pointed out, states have their own standards for tort liability, medical licensure, and other legal issues that the federal law does not address.
For instance, the new Alaska law includes protections for healthcare providers, shielding them from legal liability “in an action for damages for the injury or death of a patient with a terminal illness resulting from the patient’s use of an investigational drug, biological product, or device for the purpose of sustaining the patient’s life if the person, acting in good faith and with reasonable care.” The legislation provides similar protections for manufacturers of an experimental treatment.
Alaska becomes the 41st state to enact right to try. Although these laws only address one small aspect of FDA regulation, they provide a clear model that demonstrates how to nullify federal statutes that violate the Constitution. The strategy narrows the influence of nullification to limited aspects of the law itself, which has proven to be very effective. And when enough states defy the feds, Congress will eventually follow along. This demonstrates the effectiveness of a bottom-up strategy for limiting federal power.
The results show that the practical impact of Right to Try isn’t merely theoretical.
Since the Texas Right to Try law went into effect in June 2015, at least 78 patients in the Lone Star State have received an experimental cancer treatment not allowed by the FDA. While the FDA would have allowed these patients to die, Houston-based oncologist Dr. Ebrahim Delpassand continued their treatment through the Texas law. (Watch a video about Dr. Delpassand here.)
The Right to Try Act is a no-brainer. When someone is on their deathbed, the fact that FDA ever maintained regulations that would let them die rather than try has got to be one of the most inhumane policies of the federal government.