Government Reform and Oversight Committee
February 12, 1998
Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN)
Good morning. Today is the second in a series of hearings examining issues and problems related to alternative medical treatments for millions of desperately ill Americans. Last week we heard from panels of patients and experts who discussed what they saw as the failures of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Cancer Institute. Today we will hear potential solutions to the problems that have been brought before us, one in the form of legislation that would give all Americans the freedom to choose their own medicine.
As I stated last week, the purpose in holding these hearings is to lay the issues out on the table, and deal with them in the most reasonable and balanced way. I want to stress that, in no way is this a partisan issue. Dedicated Members from both parties have raised concerns about patient access. We owe it to the millions of patients, their families and loved ones who are not satisfied with conventional treatments to give our time, energy and attention to this important issue.
It was mentioned last week by Members of this Committee that these hearings are not necessary, that these issues have been heard before and that the FDA Modernization Act has been passed to fix these problems. However, we heard last week, that serious problems still exist, that these issues are still tremendously important to Americans, and that the FDA Modernization Act fails to properly address patient access to medicine.
America is perhaps the world leader in allowing its citizens individual liberties, but sadly, we continue to deny our citizens the guardianship of their own health. Without health, all other liberties become meaningless.
Medicine is often a matter of individual choice. We know from modern science that what works for some, does not work for others. Last week we heard testimony that some of our country's top government scientists are not promoting the progress of medicine, but instead holding it back. Today we will hear from a highly-esteemed doctor, researcher and advisor to the German Congress on the medical advances that have taken place in Germany in the past 20 years that further illustrate how American medicine is, in some ways, behind the times.
The meager advances by conventional medicine in the treatment of most chronic and deadly diseases has made alternative and complementary therapies overwhelmingly popular. But we learned last week that our system needs significant change so that these therapies are given the opportunity to be tested in scientific but rational ways. Not too many dying cancer patients want to be a part of a test where they will end up with a placebo and no chance for survival. Today we will hear testimony about different, but reliable, means of testing alternative and complementary therapies.
Defending good science, and weeding out fraud are the reasons bureaucrats use to closely monitor independent researchers and doctors who use alternative therapies. However, we heard from patients and doctors last week who felt that FDA interference is often unnecessary and unwanted. Americans do not want the government, in this case the FDA, telling them how to treat their illnesses, especially when state-level protections are already in place to safeguard the public from those who might do harm to patients. Today we will hear from a doctor who sits on the Michigan State medical licensing board who will tell us about those state-level protections.
The FDA process for patient access to unapproved treatments is a good example of the nature of the federal government to micromanage the lives of individual Americans, often unnecessarily. Access to a treatment in the development process that is not approved by the FDA generally requires participation in a clinical trial. But if a patient does not qualify under the strict guidelines of a trial, the FDA then makes a life or death decision as to whether a patient can have the treatment under a special exception. If the answer is "no," their access is shut off, with no appeal.
Today we will hear from a young girl with little chance of living because of her illness. She has undergone the most painful rituals of conventional medicine; chemotherapy, massive radiation and a full bone marrow transplant that nearly killed her. Now she wants to take a non-toxic treatment to keep her cancer from coming back, but the FDA won't let her. This little girl is a perfect example of why Americans want change.
These hearings will explore ways to help those hundreds of thousands who get left out of the FDA-sponsored experimental treatments, and, therefore left out in the cold. We have some highly esteemed Members of Congress who will continue the discussion of last week about the legislation entitled the Access to Medical Treatment Act and how that legislation can assist American citizens in accessing the treatment they and their physician believes is best for them.
Seriously ill patients want options. I have stated before that the terminally ill should have access to any potential cure available. But chronic illnesses can be just as bad. If conventional medicine does not offer a cure, the chronically ill should have a right to try an alternative without the headache of bureaucratic red tape, and government officials who think they know better. The government ought to be helping them find new alternatives - not throwing up roadblocks.
It's time for the Congress to show true leadership in providing greater access to new and promising treatments. Good health and medicine require it.