'Untested drugs for dying' bill given government backing
A new law that would allow terminally-ill patients in England and Wales to be given untested medicines has received government backing.
The Medical Innovation Bill proposed by Lord Saatchi would allow some people dying of cancer to be voluntarily treated with unlicensed drugs.
The bill has been amended to require doctors to get the agreement of another specialist to prescribing the drugs.
That safeguard has led the Department of Health to give its support.
'Justified and essential'
Conservative peer Lord Saatchi has been campaigning on the issue since his wife, the author Josephine Hart, died of ovarian cancer.
The bill, which would give legal protection to doctors who want to try different procedures or treatments when they have exhausted other options, will be debated by peers for the first time on Friday.
Lord Saatchi told the Daily Telegraph the same principle was currently being employed in the treatment of Ebola patients in Africa.
He said: "In dealing with the deadly Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organisation has decided that departure from standard evidence-based treatment is fully justified and essential.
"It has set ethical guidelines for the use of new therapies and interventions - they are identical to the provisions of the Medical Innovation Bill."
One of the bill's aims is to encourage pharmaceutical companies to fund experimental drugs that only target a small number of diseases.
At its second reading in June, Lord Saatchi said: "All cancer deaths are wasted lives.
"Scientific knowledge has not advanced by one centimetre as a result of all these deaths, because the current law requires the deceased receive only the standard procedure - the endless repetition of a failed experiment.
"The current law is a barrier to progress in curing cancer."
BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said that some doctors were concerned that allowing untested medicines to be used more widely could endanger patients, however.
The Department of Health has said it is "minded to support" the bill, which would have to complete its passage through the Lords and then go through the Commons before becoming law.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Innovation is at the heart of modernising the NHS and is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures and work on the Medical Innovation Bill is ongoing.
"We are pleased that Lord Saatchi has tabled amendments to the bill to help ensure patient and staff safety."