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Panel Votes to Let Dying Patients Access Experimental Drugs


Saying that some chance is better than none, a House panel voted Thursday to let terminally ill patients get drugs that have not yet been approved for use. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

The vote by the House Committee on Reform and Human Services came after testimony from Steven Walker about the cancer death of his wife more than a decade ago. Walker said she was denied access to drugs then considered experimental, but since approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We knew they worked. The FDA probably knew they worked. But they were more focused on their process than they were on delivery,” Walker said.

The measure drew objections from Rep. Juan Mendez. He cautioned the plan could give patients false hope. And, Rep. Sally Gonzales said the reason FDA has such a rigorous screening process is because many of these drugs may actually prove harmful. But, Rep. Kelly Townsend said that misses the point.

“The person has no other hope. And so I think they should have that ability to make that decision on their own, to go ahead and make that last-ditch effort. That’s their human right to do that. And it’s their sovereignty as a person to make the decision to take that risk. Because they really don’t have any other choice,” Townsend said.

The measure is worded so voters would get the last word on the law in November.

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