WATERS: ‘Right-to-try’ for terminally ill Kentuckians: A no-brainer

Jim Waters head

Once upon a time, an eagle’s egg was knocked loose from its nest and rolled down the mountain into a barnyard full of chickens.

The chickens compassionately protected this egg until it hatched, after which they raised this creature – not as a beautiful eagle but just like a chicken who scratched the ground for grub and worms while fluttering around the barnyard.

One day, a neighbor convinced the farmer who owned the chickens to let him take that eagle up the mountainside to see if he might fly.

When that man released the eagle, the innate desire to live free and soar took over. That majestic bird stretched his wings and flew into the sky – like eagles are created to do.

But what if he hadn’t soared? What if the eagle had fallen to the ground and died when the neighbor let him go?

Would anyone dare claim he had committed an evil act by giving that eagle every opportunity to at least try to fly?

“Right-to-try” policies can be found in several other states, protecting terminally ill patients’ right to access experimental drugs that may not have gone through the bureaucracy’s full testing gambit.

Allowing terminally ill Kentuckians to try and save their own lives through experimental drugs is a no-brainer for any politician looking for legislation that has – and would – attract strong bipartisan support.

Such legislation passed Michigan’s House of Representatives 109-0 and received an overwhelming 31-2 vote in the state Senate before Gov. Rick Snyder signed it into law one year ago this month.

Americans of all political persuasions are asking: Why should we deny terminally ill people the right to try every option – even if some of those lives still are lost in the end?

Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola – a humiliating, wasting virus – in the summer of 2014 while serving as a medical missionary in Liberia, received his first dose of the experimental drug ZMapp while standing close enough to death’s door at the age of 33 to push it open while separated from his family by 6,000 long miles.

ZMapp is made possible by antibodies produced in an Australian strain of tobacco at Kentucky BioProcessing in Owensboro.

Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a unit of Reynolds American Inc., manufactured ZMapp, which uses genetically-modified tobacco plants.

Kentucky BioProcessing LLC, a unit of Reynolds American Inc., manufactured ZMapp, which uses genetically-modified tobacco plants.

Brantly, whose story is told in his moving book “Called for Life,” began to experience nearly immediate improvement after receiving his first dose in Liberia, which allowed him to get on a plane – while fully quarantined – and became the first American to return and be treated for Ebola in the U.S.

While the tobacco leaf that helped save his life isn’t the same kind found in Kentucky’s waving fields, it nevertheless is most impressive that such a demonized plant could produce such redemptive results and be produced here in the Bluegrass State.

But what if this whole experiment hadn’t worked? What if Brantly had died even after taking the drug?

Should the Food and Drug Administration have told this doctor – now fully healed and once again serving the world’s poor and downtrodden – that he had no such right to try experimental medicine that had only been tested on primates but no humans?

Fortunately, the FDA allowed Brantly to obtain ZMapp and save his life from a virus that kills 70 percent of its victims.

In other cases, though, the FDA has operated a command-and-control, pick-and-choose approach, which is neither compassionate nor fair.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.