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Wisconsin Passes ‘Right To Try’ Legislation

Gov. Walker Signs Bipartisan Bill Into Law


Image Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

After sailing through the state Senate and Assembly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a controversial “Right to Try” bill into law with little fanfare.

The Badger State is now the 39th state to allow terminally ill patients to experiment with drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Supporters of “Right to Try” maintain the measure makes it far easier for seriously and terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments by bypassing regulators. These vulnerable patients are often unable to participate in clinical trials and have little chance of being cured.

Drug companies already allow some patients access to new drugs outside of clinical trials under a program known as “compassionate use” – as long as the FDA approves such requests.

Although the FDA approves the vast majority of compassionate use requests, sometimes companies refuse out of fear that negative results could be used against them by the government or patients injured by their products. Wisconsin’s bill shields doctors and drug companies from some legal risk.

“It’s that opportunity to try,” state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, told Life Matters Media. “Sometimes the FDA is so cumbersome, and here at a state level we can help folks gain access to these new, hot drugs that come out almost daily. It’s exciting.”

Strongly opposed by medical groups and some bioethicists, the effort made it through one of the nation’s most divided state legislatures.

State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, told LMM voting for the bill was “the right thing to do.”

Wirch said even he was surprised the bill passed so easily.

“I think it’s because it passed in states across the country,” Wirch said. “Legislators realized other states O.K.’d it. Quite frankly, if we didn’t (pass it) people would go to other states to take advantage of it. It’s an individual decision at the end of life and it’s important to have options.”

Critics, including the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are concerned “Right to Try” will cause dying patients unnecessary suffering and promote false hope.

In just four years, “Right to Try” legislation, backed by the libertarian Goldwater Institute, has spread across the nation. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to pass such legislation.

R. Alta Charo, the Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, called the movement a “fraud.”

“The proponents have managed to make the public think it’s a personal, autonomy and civil right issue, and it’s not,” said Charo, an elected fellow of the National Academy of Medicine. “This is about ethical and responsible regulation of business.”

Charo said she’s disappointed to see Wisconsin Democrats support it.

“I spoke at length with one particular member who is a lifelong Democrat, very progressive on most social issues, and yet completely flimflammed into thinking that this is a progressive, pro-patient kind of bill,” Charo told LMM.

The United States Congress is also considering a “Right to Try” bill at the federal level. President Donald Trump, who highlighted the effort in his State of the Union speech, has said he plans to sign legislation into law when it reaches his desk.