FDA Reform: A Major Victory for People with AIDS

Log Cabin Chosen for White House Signing Ceremony

December 2, 1997 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON) When Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration's breakthrough drug approval process in November, it was the culmination of a long battle by gay Republican activists to force the federal government out of the way between people with AIDS and life-extending AIDS treatments.

Beginning with legislation first introduced by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA) in 1991 to speed the approval process for life-saving drug therapies, Log Cabin activists have been key players in the FDA reform movement. Since early in the epidemic, pro-treatment activists have complained bitterly about the FDA's erratic, politicized and slow approval process for each breakthrough drug treatment, leading to thousands of needless deaths of people with life-threatening diseases. By forcing a uniform process onto the bureaucracy while ensuring safety and efficacy, as well as ensuring informed consent for patients who choose the treatments, the legislation which passed this year will go a long way in ending "death by red tape" for people with AIDS as new treatments are developed.

LCR was the only gay or AIDS organization to support FDA reform. Most gay and AIDS organizations joined with Ralph Nader and consumer protectionists on the left to form "the Patient Coalition," which mounted a major attack on the bill. Many of these same AIDS groups opposed fast-track approval of the protease inhibitor drugs, which since their approval in 1996 have shown to be extremely effective at improving the health and extending the lives of people with HIV/AIDS.

In July 1997, when the bill moved onto the Senate floor and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) made clear his intention to stop it, Log Cabin wrote a detailed letter to Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT), chief Senate sponsor, refuting the Patient Coalition's attacks on the bill. In the letter, Log Cabin's national AIDS policy advisor Jim Driscoll reminded Congress that the majority of patients and people with AIDS were on their side, despite the efforts by national gay and AIDS organizations to stop FDA reform. Driscoll, who has helped in drafting FDA reform bills since 1991, dubbed the opponents "ideologues" who preferred price controls and nationalized health care over regulatory reform.

Kennedy mounted lonely opposition on the Senate floor, holding up the bill for several days. But in the end, FDA reform passed 98-2 in the Senate and by unanimous consent in the House, dealing a crushing blow to the opposition. Driscoll joined Republican supporters of FDA reform as the sole representative of a gay or AIDS group at the White House signing ceremony on November 21.

"FDA reform will save countless lives in the future," said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "We have a duty to remember all those who didn't survive the long drug approval processes that kept life-saving treatments out of their reach. The invitation to attend the White House ceremony demonstrates the wide recognition of Jim's leadership on this issue."