Tuesday, August 14, 2007

D.C. Circuit Protects Terminally Ill Patients ... From Themselves

Alliance for Justice:
Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs vs. Food and Drug Administration - Decision 08/07/07 Abigail Burroughs was only nineteen years old when she learned that she had head and neck cancer. Eighteen months of painful chemotherapy and radiation did nothing to stop its growth. Her world-reknowned doctors told Abigail about two new drugs that could save her life. Unfortunately for Abigail, these drugs were still in the final stages of their Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trials and only available to a limited number of patients. Though both drugs were eventually approved, it didn't happen in time to save Abigail. Out of government-approved treatment options, Abigail died at the age of twenty-one.

I'll be taking a look at this. One's sympathies are naturally with the dying patient in cases like this (think also of marijuana use by dying patients sustaining the side-effects of chemotherapy). But not so long ago, there was a fair degree of consensus that dying patients, and their families, were subject to exploitation and disappointment of unrealistic--and perhaps manipulated--hopes (think apricot pits), and needed protection from charlatans and overzealous researchers eager to find credulous subjects. Much has changed in recent decades, in large part due to the (early stage of the) AIDS epidemic, the demands of AIDS activists, and the changes in attitude that followed in their wake.

The FDA once followed a policy of "compassionate use" exceptions in cases like Abigail's--I'm not sure from this account why that didn't happen here.

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