The debate about whether allowing patients, especially terminally ill ones, access to experimental drugs is a heated one that is unlikely to lose momentum in the near future. If each experimental drug were miraculous and helped the sick, there would be no debate; however, what if you took an experimental drug and it made you sick? Who would be responsible?
It Is Complicated
The answer is likely the most cut-and-dry: It is the responsibility of the patient, the person who took the drug knowing that it was experimental and that there would be more risk involved than when taking established prescription drugs. However, it is not really that easy. While there is always patient responsibility, the individual who provided access to the experimental medication also has a responsibility and should be held accountable.
Like a Wild Animal
A physician prescribing a patient an experimental drug has been compared to someone who keeps a wild animal as a pet. The experimental drug, like the wild animal, could cause harm at any time, for any reason; should the animal bite someone, the owner would be held responsible. Likewise, a prescribing physician will be held responsible if a patient they give an experimental drug to has any adverse reactions.
A case in which a person experiences adverse reactions from an experimental drug is similar to medical malpractice cases; if the prescribing doctor did not warn the person about the risks associated with taking the drug and have the patient sign off, signifying their understanding in writing, then it may be possible to sue the physician on a strict liability basis. However, it is the patient’s responsibility to be aware of what exactly they are putting into their body and to make sure they fully understand the risks and potential rewards of doing so before taking any type of medication.
The decision to take an experimental medication is a very serious and potentially life changing decision; it should not be made lightly. The person taking the medication is assuming a great deal of responsibility regarding the decision, but the person prescribing the medication is also taking on added responsibility. Those involved in such a situation should always contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to find out what options they may have available.