Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Do People Have a Right to Take Part in Medical Studies?


An FDA official says that even people who may think they are excluded from a particular study of a drug or other method have some options.

"Patients can petition [the FDA] for access to a drug after a trial has ended, or if a drug trial is not being conducted in their geographical area. Also, the drug company may make a single-patient exception if a clinical trial has not yet begun," Terry Toigo, RPh, the FDA's associate commissioner for special health issues, tells WebMD. A single-patient exception allows patients who do not qualify for the study, but who have a clear medical need, to get the drug being tested.

"So people do have some control over their access to these drugs," says Toigo. "But the real control is often with the pharmaceutical company offering the drug. If the company is not willing to provide the drug, the FDA's OK doesn't help the patient."

But is getting permission to use an experimental drug or take part in a trial really what's best for the patient? Not always, Annas says.

Some have referred to these FDA exceptions as "compassionate use exceptions," he says. "That's a weasel word, compassion," he says. "You think it's compassionate to put somebody in a research [program] when they think it's treatment? Is it really better than nothing? The truth is, we won't know until after the research is completed. The truth also is, it could be worse than nothing; it could make dying worse."

Annas warns that "dying in a research protocol can be pretty bad. The University of Chicago very sensibly requires that in phase 1 [or early phase] cancer studies, everybody be told that their alternative is good hospice care, that they won't die in pain in a hospice program, whereas the phase 1 trial is really not for [the patient's] benefit. It's probably not going to help them."

The reality is that the choices open to terminally ill patients are usually not good ones -- and that's what creates the controversy, Annas says in his book, Some Choice. "To the parent whose child is dying, it feels that their child is being denied treatment," he says. "In truth, there is no treatment available for their child. They're being denied access to a research protocol that could have some effect or none. Some choice."

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
precancerous lesions slideshow
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
screening tests for men
Vitamin D
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
Brilliant sun rays