Harry Reid in big fight about medicine for the terminally ill
Reid, the Senate Minority (Democratic) Leader, has blocked a bill by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that would allow patients facing death to try experimental treatments not yet fully approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Johnson and 42 co-sponsors, including two Democrats, say the costly and arduous federal Food and Drug Administration approval process keeps drugs on the shelves for years waiting for final approval even after passing initial safety trials. Their Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2016 (S. 2912) would allow patients access to such drugs – and protect manufacturers and distributors from lawsuits for such experimental uses – as long as such use is in accordance with applicable state laws.
The bill also would allow these experimental treatments to be tried without affecting the results of clinical trials.
Johnson attempted on Sept. 28 to gain “unanimous consent” to fast-track S. 2912 to consideration by the full Senate.
But Reid objected, saying the bill is partisan and demanding a hearing on it.
Johnson replied the next day that the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which he chairs, has indeed held two hearings on the bill; and that Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Manchin of Indiana both are co-sponsors. Finally, replying to Reid’s contention that the attempt to fast-track the bill is a “cheap stunt” aimed at helping Johnson's re-election campaign, the Wisconsin senator noted that the legislature in Reid’s own Nevada last year had become the 18th state to pass the state equivalent of his federal bill – and that it did so with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Since Nevada passed its law last year, another 14 states have done so, making the so-called “right-to-try” movement one of the nation’s fastest-growing policy innovations. California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed his state’s version of the bill on Sept. 27.
“A lot of people are willing to try a medication that hasn’t been proven to work, on the chance that it might work,” Timothy Sandefur, an attorney with the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, told American Media Institute. “It should be the patient’s right to decide.”
Johnson accused Reid of putting his political agenda above compassion for the terminally ill such as the young mother from a Milwaukee suburb for whom the bill is named. Trickett Wendler died in March after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
AMI attempted to contact Reid’s office for comment three times in 36 hours, twice by phone and once by email, and left messages for his deputy chief of staff Adam Jentleson – but received no reply to our query.
Some medical ethicists oppose the Trickett Wendler Right to Try bill. Writing June 28 in The Hill newspaper, research associates Lisa Kearns and Beth Roxland of the New York University Langone Medical Center’s Division of Medical Ethics called it a “hollow bill” that “creates no new rights” for patients -- in part because it does not require insurance companies to cover the treatments. They described the bill as a “false promise” that is “shameful.” They also said some of the medicines might even exacerbate the patients' suffering.
Johnson, who faces a tough re-election bid in November, said he plans to push the bill again after the election. In his letter to Reid objecting to Reid’s parliamentary obstruction, Johnson wrote: “I assure you that whatever the result, I will return to the Senate floor in November on behalf of all those terminally ill patients who could care less about partisan politics in Washington and want only the right to save their own lives.”