House Reconsiders Democrats’ Move to Deny Hope to Terminally Ill Patients

Sarah Anderson co-authored this post.

For more than a year, so-called “progressives” have seethed hyperbolic rhetoric claiming that people would die from Republican health insurance reform and tax reform legislation. Last Tuesday, these same “progressives” voted to ensure that people would quite literally die waiting on the federal bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), by voting against the motion to suspend the rules and pass the Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act, H.R. 5247.

After months of behind the scenes wrangling, the House considered a modified version of the Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act. The bill would allow certain patients with a terminal illness or life-threatening condition to try experimental drugs that cleared the initial phase of the FDA’s approval process. With nothing to lose, patients would be granted the fundamental right to fight for their lives. Similar, even broader legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent in August.

Right-to-try laws have been passed in 38 states, from states as liberal as California and Illinois to states as conservative as Kentucky and Utah. Overwhelmingly, these laws pass blue and red state legislatures alike with near unanimous support. Many of the remaining 12 states are simply awaiting federal action before moving on right to try legislation themselves. In one remaining state, Wisconsin, a right to try bill was approved by the Senate and Assembly just last month and will soon be signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.

This compassionate policy is not a partisan issue, it’s a humanitarian issue. Yet, with Matthew Bellina and Jordan McLinn (after whom the bill is named) and their families in the room, 138 Democrats rallied against the H.R. 5247 “Right to Try Act,” complaining the bill would undermine the FDA approval process and hurt patients.

With 399 members voting, the measure would have needed 266 votes to pass with a two-thirds supermajority of the voting members. However, the 138 Democrats and 2 Republicans voting nay, the 256 yeas were not enough for passage.

How granting people the right to try to survive could possibly be against their best interests is beyond comprehension, and political spin at its ugliest. Nothing about the legislation would interfere with the FDA clinical trial process, or any other aspect of the multiphase approval process. In fact, the legislation would only apply to drugs that have passed the initial phase of the FDA approval process, and would only become available to individuals who meet a specific set of criteria.

Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute tweeted that the Democrats’ argument was baseless, noting that the H.R. 5247 “Right to Try Act” would create an alternative for patients that “works alongside the FDA process. ONLY treatments that are being given in FDA-approved clinical trials are available to patients under Right to Try.”

For these Democrats who betrayed millions of sick Americans, we have only one question: Why? Why fall into the trap of over-politicization and oppose a policy accepted and embraced by hundreds of Democratic lawmakers across the country?

Why deny Americans all reasonable treatment options in the face of a terminal illness? Why deny them the right to hope and the ability to fight for their own lives, simply by giving them access to experimental drugs that could help them? There is no excuse.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of “Right to Try,” pleaded with Democrats from the House floor last Tuesday to vote for the bill. “You either have hope or you have no hope,” he said. “In this instance, this bill gives tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, or millions even, the hope that they can avail themselves of medication that might prolong their life or maybe even be a cure.”

Rep. Biggs has been vocal on the issue since last week’s vote and has been instrumental in ensuring that there is still hope for this legislation and for the millions of Americans whose lives it could save. Fortunately for supporters of “Right to Try,” the same bill that Democrats voted down last week is being considered under a rule today and will receive a vote this afternoon, this time only requiring the usual simple majority vote to pass. If all members who voted for the bill last week do so again, the bill will pass the House by a considerable margin.

Democrats voted to deny patients with terminal illnesses and their families the hope they deserve, and they will likely do so again today. They turned what should have been a common-sense, bipartisan bill into a political issue. It was a disgusting scene, and patients fighting for their lives across America deserve an explanation for such a heartless display of partisanship.

We are optimistic that this bill will pass with the simple majority required in the House today, and the Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act, H.R. 5247, will move to consideration in the Senate, then onward to the president’s desk to become law. But, for those who voted to reject this legislation, and will vote against it again today and in the future: shame on you.