Bioethics Blogs

Gov. Brown’s veto of right-to-try bill

by Lisa Kearns, MS, MA

The conservative press’s reaction to Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of California’s “right-to-try” bill recently was surprising—not because of the vitriol expressed, or because the writers strongly supported the legislation, which was overwhelmingly popular in the state. What was surprising was that in their rush to criticize the Democratic governor, the veto’s opponents failed to see the harm right-to-try legislation poses for patients—providing mythical hope of a 1-in-5,000 shot at a drug that offers a very slim chance of working anyway.

Some background: On Oct. 11, Gov. Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 159, becoming the first state executive to reject right-to-try legislation since the first law was enacted, in Colorado in May 2014. The legislative right-to-try movement was conceived by the libertarian Goldwater Institute as a way of giving terminally ill patients compassionate, or pre-approval, access to promising therapies that have passed only Phase 1 testing and thus haven’t received FDA approval. Twenty-four states have enacted a right-to-try law to date, and every bill (plus California’s) was passed unanimously or nearly so. Yet Brown didn’t follow suit, writing in his veto that the FDA’s compassionate use program already allows patients to request pre-approval access and that the agency’s efforts to streamline the application process should be given time to work.

The right-wing media was up in arms. “Brown to State: Drop Dead,” read a Wall Street Journal headline (a play on a headline that the Daily News ran after President Gerald Ford refused bailout funds for New York City).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.