Jul 28, 2010 8:25 PM by Chris Welty
WASHINGTON (AP) - Reviving allegations of government death
panels, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said Wednesday that an FDA
advisory panel's negative recommendation on a contested breast
cancer drug amounts to rationing health care.
"I shudder at the thought of a government panel assigning a
value to a day of a person's life," Vitter said in a press release
about the drug Avastin. "It is sickening to think that care would
be withheld from a patient simply because their life is not deemed
While he did not use the term "death panels," his complaint
mirrors false allegations raised last year by Republicans such as
former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who claimed the Democratic health
care bill included "death panels" that would decide who deserves
treatment and who doesn't.
Vitter, who is up for re-election, called on the FDA to reject
the panel's recommendation, saying it appears to have been based on
But the FDA and its advisory panels don't consider cost
effectiveness when reviewing drugs for approval; the agency is
charged only with reviewing a product's health risks and benefits.
An independent panel of cancer experts convened by FDA voted
12-1 last week to recommend dropping the agency's endorsement of
Avastin's use against breast cancer. The panel cited recent studies
finding that the drug did not extend patients' life spans and also
increased the incidence of side effects and other complications.
"We have definitive evidence that Avastin causes harmful side
effects and we've now seen a number of well-done studies that show
no advantage to lifespan," panel chair Dr. Wyndham Wilson of the
National Cancer Institute said at the time of the vote.
Avastin - a blockbuster cancer drug that had $5.9 billion in
sales last year for drug maker Roche - is also approved for colon,
lung, kidney and brain cancer. The panel's recommendation pertains
only to its use in breast cancer, for which it was given
conditional approval in 2008.
FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said the agency was still
considering the panel's recommendation and will make a decision
based on safety and effectiveness. The agency usually follows such
recommendations, but not always.
Vitter recently embraced another debunked claim pushed by some
critics of President Barack Obama, saying that he supports lawsuits
contesting Obama's citizenship. He later said he does not
personally question the president's Hawaiian birth certificate.