Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar last year for his role in Dallas Buyer's Club, where he played Ron Woodruff, an activist who smuggled experimental AIDS drugs up from Mexico in the 1980s.
Not only did the film cement McConaughey's unlikely evolution into a legitimate actor, it also kickstarted a national legislative movement to make it easier for terminally ill patients to get a hold of experimental drugs. Five states signed the first so-called "right to try" bills into law last year, and Minnesota's version will be introduced in a Senate committee on Wednesday.
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The bill is set up as a workaround of a more time-consuming "compassionate use exception" the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already has in place. Obviously, when you're dealing with the terminally ill time is a pretty major factor, and the FDA has been known to deny some applications.
"Our bill says for purposes of state law, which is a challenge to federal preemption, everyone has the natural, constitutional right to try to save their own life so long as they don't infringe on someone else's rights," said state Sen. Branden Petersen, who authored the Senate version of the bill.
If the law passes, Minnesotans with a terminal disease who have considered all other treatment options and receive permission from a doctor could legally use any drug that has passed Phase I of an FDA trial. Phase I tests for safety and dosage range, whereas Phases II and III test for actual effectiveness and side effects.
"If you hear about some trial from across the country and it sounds like it might work, let's say it's cancer-related or something like that, you can't just go and get it. That's illegal right now and we're trying to change that," said Petersen.
Opponents of the law have raised questions over whether a state law actually can preempt the FDA, like Petersen says, and there's no guarantee drug companies will comply with something that is likely to irritate the FDA.
But this is a bill with tremendous bipartisan support and Petersen is confident that if it makes it out of committee it will pass.
"It's a small bill, it's certainly not going to change the health care system," he said. "But if a loved one of mine or a neighbor of mine was ever in that situation I'd want them to have every tool at their disposal to try to save their own life."
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