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US "right to try" experimental drug bill defeated in House vote

Published on 14/03/18 at 10:41am
Image Credit: Architect of the Capitol, https://www.flickr.com/photos/uscapitol/6498851589

The divisive and much-talked-about “right to try” legislation designed to provide access for terminally ill Americans to experimental and unproven drugs has been defeated on the House floor by predominantly Democrat opposition after failing to secure the majority vote of two-thirds to successfully pass, with 259 for and 140 against.

Those pushing the bill expressed much disappointment at the decision, with Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C Burgess remarking in a joint statement: “For months we sought to strike the right balance by allowing patients greater access to these unapproved treatments and therapies while also ensuring proper patient protections. This bill does just that.”

But opponents of the bill argued that patients could be put directly in harm’s way at the mercy of unproven treatments which could easily shorten the finite time they had remaining, or destroy their quality of life. Some even accused the bill as seeking to neuter the authority of the FDA.

“By defeating this bill tonight, we protected patients and supported FDA’s continued role in approving experimental treatments that may help save a patient’s life,” said the Energy and Commerce Committee’s senior Democrat, Representative Frank Pallone Jr.

The bill originally passed in the Senate in August last year, and similar laws are already in effect in 38 states, passed since 2014.

The bill was also vocally opposed by many major patient groups, 75 of which signed a letter to House leaders ahead of the debate to reiterate their concerns that the legislation “would not increase access to promising therapies for our patients because it does not address the primary barriers to such access.”

As the bill was rejected under a fast-track procedure normally reserved for non-controversial legislation, it could yet be passed in time, and would only require a majority vote, as opposed to the two-thirds majority required this time. Many supporters showed confidence that the bill would succeed the next time it is brought to a vote, with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy stating: “We will try again, pass legislation and bring hope to those whose only desire is the right to try to live.”

Matt Fellows

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