Bioethics Blogs

Ethical Opposition to Right to Try Laws Is Easy to Articulate

Over the last year, nearly half the states in the country have passed “right to try” laws, which give terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs. These laws are controversial: the public favors them, but scientists and health policy experts think they can be harmful, causing false hope and sometimes suffering. But opposition to the laws can be “difficult to articulate,” wrote Rebecca Dresser in the Hastings Center Report, May-June 2015. She argues that state lawmakers and voters should hear stories about “the dashed hopes, misery, and lost opportunities that can follow the resort to unproven measures. These stories are the best way to explain why right to try laws are a misguided ef­fort to help patients.” This post responds to Dresser’s article.


Rebecca Dresser offers a much-needed and timely review of the current right to try movement in “‘Right to Try’ Laws: The Gap between Experts and Advocates” She raises several important points often overlooked in the rush by policy-makers and the public to help terminally ill patients.

First, Dresser highlights the fact that the laws do not actually reduce the Food and Drug Administration’s involvement in the approval process for unapproved therapies. And she writes that, in any case, experts and scientists (and, we would add, ethicists) see little benefit from loosening FDA restrictions. She also notes that pharmaceutical companies’ preapproval access programs are inadequate to meet patient demand. More important is her observation that patients facing death may overestimate how much an unapproved drug might help them while failing to grasp the very real harm it can cause.

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.