The Food and Drug Administration says Army doctors in the Persian Gulf need not obtain patient consent before using experimental drugs on the battlefield, particularly in the event of chemical or biological warfare.

The new rule, signed Friday by Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan and Deputy FDA Commissioner James S. Benson, grants Defense Department requests to waive patient consent in using "investigational new drugs" in "certain battlefield or combat-related situations." "Combat-related" might mean only the threat of combat, the regulation said.Armed forces doctors, like civilian physicians, normally must get informed consent before using such drugs.

Investigational new drugs are those that have emerged from formal clinical trials and are being used by physicians who promise to report results, but have not yet been granted full approval by the FDA.