The right to try apricot pits, and the death of a friend

By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer

Seventeen states including Arizona have approved “right to try” laws, giving terminally ill patients access to experimental and unapproved drugs as a last hope of survival.

In April, The U.S. House this year approved a national version of right to try.

Related: Judge throws out California law allowing life-ending drugs  

“It’s truly a national movement through the states,” said Kurt Altman, national policy adviser and general counsel with the libertarian Goldwater Institute, which has helped lawmakers draft their bills.

In 1977, a measure legalizing in the manufacture and sale of the controversial substance laetrile in Arizona was signed into law by Gov. Raul H. Castro. The substance was banned at the time from interstate commerce by the Food and Drug Administration. which contended it had not been proved effective against cancer.

In the 1970s, the substance, which is made from apricot pits, made a political resurgence with the news movie superstar Steve McQueen had gone to Mexico for treatment of his cancer with Laetril. He died four months later.

Banning laetrile in Arizona was the purpose of a bill sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills). He told the House Health Committee the Arizona law represented “politics over science. During a news conference on his bill to place the repeal of medical marijuana back on ballot, Kavanagh said, “We don’t let people take snake oil.”

At about the same time, the state Department of Health discovered the laetrile law while preparing for national certification.

“Let’s remove this embarrassment from our books . . . , “Kavanagh told the Health Committee

A fraternity brother of mine in 1960 won an Oxford Scholarship. He had just been diagnosed with cancer. He nevertheless, enrolled at Oxford and began treatment with Laetrile, which was approved in the United Kingdom.

Gary Cathcart completed his four-year studies abroad and was in reasonable health. He returned to Wyoming, where he could not obtain laetrile. There was no such law as right to try.

Gary died a short time later.

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