Walter E. Williams
Darcy Olsen, president of the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, and Richard Garr, president of Neuralstem, a biotech company, wrote "Right to Try experimental drugs" in USA Today (5/28/2014). They pointed out that "this year, more than 5,000 Americans will lose their battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease." Up until recently, there was no medicine on the market that significantly improved the lives of ALS patients. But now there is one in clinical trials that holds considerable promise, but it has not been granted Food and Drug Administration approval. The average amount of time it takes to get a drug through the FDA approval process is 10 years. That's time that terminal patients don't have.

Legislators in Colorado, Louisiana and Missouri recently approved "Right to Try" legislation, and Arizona voters will vote on the measure this November. "Right to Try" is an initiative designed by the Goldwater Institute. It would give terminal patients access to investigational drugs that have completed basic safety testing. Under a doctor's supervision, people would be given the chance to try promising experimental drugs before they're given final FDA approval.

There's no denying that there's risk in taking a drug or medical procedure that hasn't completed clinical trials. The question is: Who has the right to decide how much risk a person will take -- he or some faceless Washington bureaucrat? In my opinion, the answer depends upon the answer to the question: Who owns you? If one owns himself, then it is he who decides how much risk he takes. If government owns you, then you don't have the right to unilaterally decide how much risk you'll take.

The FDA's mission is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals. In doing so, FDA officials can make two types of errors. They can approve a drug that has unanticipated dangerous side effects, or they can disapprove or delay a drug that is both safe and effective. FDA officials have unequal incentives to avoid these two types of errors. If the FDA official errs on the side of under-caution -- approving a dangerous drug -- the victims are visible, and he is held directly accountable. If he errs on the side of over-caution -- holding up approval of a safe and effective drug -- who's to know? The cost and the victims are invisible. Politicians and bureaucrats prefer invisible victims.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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