Bioethics Blogs

Right to Try: Why Logic and Facts Won’t Win This One

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Last week the U.S. Senate passed bill S. 204, the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2017. Trickett Wendler was a woman with ALS. The ALS association and her family lobbied Congress to support this bill to give all patients living with a terminal illness the “right” to purchase experimental drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Essentially, this bypasses the FDA’s compassionate use program. Instead of filing an application for FDA compassionate use (which the FDA approves 99% of the time), the patient asks the drug manufacturer directly. As I have written in this space before, such laws threaten public health efforts through the FDA to ensure safe and efficacious pharmaceuticals.

Currently, 37 states have such right-to-try laws and more have considered them. The push for these laws begins with the Barry Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think-tank, funded in part by the Koch brothers. Last month I had the surreal experience of debating two right-to-try supporters (one from a business school and one from the Goldwater Institute) about these laws which they base in a “right to self-medicate.” There were two of us against self-medication and two in favor of it.  You can read the commentaries and responses of the debaters here.

In this essay, I do not plan to restate my arguments against right-to-try. You can read my thoughts on this policy here and here. Instead, this post will examine the tools of argumentation that my opponents employed in the debate. It is important to show their debate techniques so that we all have a better understanding of how to analyze claims to support right-to-try and to realize why better facts and better arguments are falling on deaf ears.

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.