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For the terminally ill, a 'right-to-try' law would provide access to potentially lifesaving drugs

For the terminally ill, a 'right-to-try' law would provide access to potentially lifesaving drugs
The Food and Drug Administration campus is in Silver Spring, Md. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

To the editor: Imagine being terminally ill, exhausting all available options, and being told you shouldn't have the right to try experimental treatments because they may be "hazardous to your health." Columnist Michael Hiltzik argued that. We couldn't disagree more.

Federal right-to-try legislation would allow terminally ill patients the freedom to try experimental medications and treatments that have passed Phase 1 of Food and Drug Administration trials. Hiltzik calls this "cruel" and "insidious" because the legislation would bypass regulatory barriers and the treatments may not work.

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Removing barriers for terminally ill patients with no other options is the point, and it's a good thing. The sad possibility that the treatments won't work isn't a reason to deny them.

Additionally, Hiltzik's concern about the financial hardships terminally ill patients might face under a right-to-try system seems trivial compared with the urgency of trying to save one's life. And if cost were the driving factor determining the availability of medication in the marketplace, plenty of fully approved treatments would be off-limits to those in dire need.

Denying a terminally ill patient the possibility of saving his or her own life because that person may be making the wrong choice is not the government's place. Patients should be left free to make that determination on their own.

Finally, Hiltzik argues that a right-to-try law is not necessary because the annually FDA approves about 1,000 "compassionate use" requests. Nearly 1 million Americans die of terminal illnesses each year. Does anyone really believe only 1,000 Americans wanted access to experimental therapy?

The FDA's low number of "compassionate use" approvals should be a red flag that the process is broken — not an excuse to keep barriers in place.

Nathan Nascimento and David Barnes, Washington

Nascimento is the executive vice president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a Koch network group. David Barnes is the policy director at Generation Opportunity, also a Koch network organization.

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