Debate Continues to Swirl Around Right to Try Laws

Forms of right to try legislation have already been passed in 39 states, as well as in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Richard Klein knows desperation all too well. When the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s swept across the nation, the former director of the FDA Patient Liaison Program could only watch as desperation slowly swallowed entire families, neighborhoods and cities. Antiretroviral therapies hadn’t yet reached the market, so infected patients saw the virus as a death sentence. With their backs against a wall, the FDA and thousands of victims scratched and clawed for anything that might slow the cresting wave.

He recalls patients turning to hyperbaric chambers and injection therapies loaded with “goat serum.” He remembers hearing news that at least one person had died on a freezing table during a whole-body hyperthermia procedure. Holistic cures that sound like mad-lib suggestions (ozone therapy, coffee enemas, energized water) were embraced openly. After all, what did the victims have to lose?

Klein knew then what he still says now: pseudoscientific solutions are only attractive when real solutions are absent. No one had anything more than anecdotal evidence to suggest their unapproved therapies were beneficial, and most only had hearsay from friends or other patients. But even if these solutions didn’t work, many of the victims of the AIDS epidemic weren’t necessarily searching for a cure, Klein said. All they wanted was to keep trying—they were looking for hope.

“I talked to an AIDS patient back then who was upset about the FDA not approving enough drugs for the market,” Klein told MD Magazine. “He told me he could take his last nickel to Vegas tomorrow, gamble it away and no one would stop him. So why shouldn’t he be able to gamble his life?”

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