Colorado has become the first state that will allow terminally ill people to try any kind of experimental drug without approval from the Food and Drug Administration, thanks to the new "Right To Try" bill just passed today.
Gov. John Hickenlooper made the state the first to pass the bill into law, though similar bills are poised to be passed in Louisiana and Missouri.
Senator Irene Aguilar, who co-sponsored the controversial legislation, dubbed it the "Dallas Buyers Club" bill after the Oscar-winning film about an AIDS patient who smuggled medicine in from Mexico.
"When you're terminal and there's a drug out there that might help you, it can seem that the obstacles to get that drug are insurmountable," Aguilar said.
"Right To Try" advocates hope to enable patients to circumvent some of the FDA's red tape and cut the federal government out of the usually cumbersome process of receiving experimental medicine; now, drug companies will be able to surpass clinical trials.
The bill was passed unanimously, following emotional testimony from relatives of sick people who tried to get federal permission for experimental drugs.
Supporters say they will accept any possible risk to the patient if there is a chance it will prolong their life — an amendment to the law prevents healthcare providers and insurers from being held liable for any adverse affects.
"For people who are facing death and have one last hope, they should have a choice to try every possible drug," said Colorado Rep. Joann Ginal, who co-sponsored of the bill. Ginal said she introduced it in part after witnessing how an experimental treatment helped her brother, who has a rare blood cancer.
There are still many critics of the bill, among them surgical oncologist Dr. David Gorski, who said the accessibility to experimental drugs won't actually help many patients.
"These proposals are built on this fantasy that there are all these patients out there that are going to be saved if they could just get access to the medicine," he said. "In reality, the patients that might be helped are very few, while the number of patients who could be hurt by something like this are many."