Actor Dennis Quaid told Congress on Wednesday that taking away the right to sue pharmaceutical companies would turn consumers into "uninformed and uncompensated lab rats."
Quaid's comments came as he described a harrowing, near-fatal drug mix-up in which his newborn twins received 1,000 times the correct dose of the blood thinner heparin.
The actor said his family's brush with tragedy underscores the need to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable through lawsuits. That remedy is becoming increasingly problematic for injured consumers.
The drug maker, Baxter Healthcare Corp., said it regrets that a product intended to save and sustain life was at the center of a medication error.
Beginning with the Bush administration, the Food and Drug Administration has stepped into suits on the side of defendant pharmaceutical companies, arguing that federal regulation of drugs pre-empts state suits.
"The regulatory cop is off the beat," Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck told the House Reform and Government Oversight Committee.
The issue of federal pre-emption of suits against the drug industry will come before the Supreme Court this year in a case from Vermont.
Some 7,000 people in the United States die every year from medication errors.
The Quaid family is suing Baxter Healthcare, which is seeking dismissal of the case on grounds that the FDA approved the labeling.
"Like many Americans, I believed that a big problem in our country was frivolous lawsuits," Quaid testified. "But now I know that the courts are often the only path to justice."
The committee's top Republican, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, sympathized with Quaid, saying that if this had happened to the Davis family, "I'd be suing everybody in sight." Apart from Quaid's case, Davis urged a middle ground between total pre-emption and unrestrained litigation.