Medical Negligence Determinations, the “Right to Try,” and Expanded Access to Innovative Treatments

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 14 (3):385-400 (2017)

Abstract

This article considers the issue of expanded access to innovative treatments in the context of recent legislative initiatives in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the United Kingdom, the supporters of legislative change argued that the common law principles governing medical negligence are a barrier to innovation. In an attempt to remove this perceived impediment, two bills proposed that innovating doctors sued for negligence should be able to rely in their defence on the fact that their decision to innovate was “responsible.” A decision to innovate would be regarded as responsible if it followed a specified process. Although these changes to the law of medical negligence were not passed, this article argues that the idea of a process-based approach was sound. In the United States, a number of states have passed “Right to Try” laws that permit doctors to prescribe and companies to provide investigational products without the need for FDA approval. These laws do not purport to and nor are they able to alter the obligations of individuals and companies under federal law. They are consequently unlikely to achieve their stated aim of expanding access to investigational products. This article argues that they nevertheless have a cogent rationale in so far as they highlight the need for rights-based reform to federal regulations governing access.

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