Medical ethics versus liability (editorial)
London Community News
Is there a moral responsibility to give those facing certain death access to experimental drugs?
That is the question some are asking after Darcy Doherty, 48, died on July 10.
You may recall Doherty’s story as he and his family went public in May with their struggle to get Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) to allow the terminally ill man to try an experimental drug on compassionate grounds.
Their story was picked up by media outlets across the country.
The pharmaceutical company repeatedly refused their request, saying it was not yet safe for use outside clinical trials.
Battling melanoma cancer Doherty wasn’t allowed to participate in the trial because scans suggested tumours caused by the disease had moved into his brain.
But, according to a story published in the Toronto Star, when Doherty had cancer in 2007, he responded well to a similar, then-experimental BMS drug. His family felt his medical history made him a good candidate for the new drug — besides, when the cancer returned, they had nothing to lose.
The drug in this case, immune system off-switch blocker BMS-936558, showed early signs of success in phase one testing, but is not yet safe for use outside clinical trials, BMS told the media when the Doherty family went public with their story.
However, the definition of safety shifts when one is facing a death sentence.
What was BMS concerned about? What side effects could possibly outweigh a cancer death sentence?
Dr. David Hogg, Doherty’s oncologist, told the CBC the experimental drug is already being used on cancer patients beyond initial phase one clinical trials and Doherty would have been a good candidate.
“Without this drug he has no hope. His disease is progressing, he will die of the disease and I don’t have any other therapy to provide him at this point,” said Hogg.
We think the decision has more to do with the company’s liability lawyers than safety. If your doctor approves and you are willing to pay for the cost of the drug— then it’s time for drug makers and Health Canada to work together and get experimental drugs— even if some prove to be a bust— to those who will surely die otherwise.
There isn’t a more perfect clinical trial than that.