Should terminally ill patients have the right to take partially tested drugs?

Armen Hareyan's picture

As the United States considers allowing experimental drugs to be given to people at the end of life, two experts in this week's BMJ debate whether terminally ill patients should have the right to take drugs after initial safety (phase I) trials but before final approval.

Professor Emil Freireich at the University of Texas believes that patients should be allowed to judge the risks for themselves.


Around half a million people will die from cancer related causes in the Unites States this year, and many are given a hopeless prognosis, he writes. For most, the option of participating in clinical trials of new drugs that offer some promise helps them remain optimistic, but most cancer patients are unable to participate in these trials.

So why not offer these drugs to these patients on a compassionate basis, he asks?

He points to several objections including safety, interference with the development of the drug and with the clinical trial process. But he rejects these and argues that patients with advanced cancer and limited life expectancy should have the same privilege as all individuals in a free society