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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case on Experimental Drugs

Written by on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

The Supreme Court declined yesterday to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that there is no constitutional right to access experimental drugs, reported the Associated Press

The California Biotech Law Blog reported on this case back in August 2007:

My best guess without reading the decision is that the Court felt that this is a policy issue that should be decided by Congress, which seems to be what was reported. . . .

It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court says on this case, if it is indeed heard by the Court.  As those of us who have studied Constitution Law know, the concept of "rights" has been liberally interpreted on occasion, according to Constitutional scholars, to reach a particular result that seems "just" from a policy perspective.  Could the current Court do the same? 

I somehow doubt it.  We have a "conservative" Court in place right now, so I doubt this Court will be reading new rights into the Constitution.  Granted, I am not a Constitutional Scholar, but that is my take on the current Court.

The California Biotech Law Blog accurately predicted that the Court would decline to read a new right into the Constitution.  While the Court did not provide any explanation of its decision not to hear the case, it can be assumed that the Court agreed with the Federal Circuit’s decision: that no right to experimental drugs exists, even when the patient is terminally ill.

So where does the Court’s decision leave this issue?

Clearly, a ruling on the issue in one federal appellate court does not preclude other appellate courts from hearing cases on similar facts and ruling differently on the same issue.   Thus, the possibility exists that another appellate court will revisit the issue down the road.

Having said this, in my opinion, a more likely scenario is that Congress decides to take up the issue at some point in the future.  This issue raises some valid public policy issues, and Congress is arguably the most appropriate forum to address them. 

I continue to take the position that there should be some mechanism by which the terminally ill can access experimental medications that offer a real promise to treating the terminal illness.  While I agree that perhaps the moral arguments in favor of making experimental medications available to the terminally ill do not rise to the level of a Constitutional right, I still think those arguments are compelling.  Doesn’t this issue merit some additional debate?



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