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The Right to Try

Tucked amidst the applause lines and rhetoric of this week’s State of the Union address was one passage that got my attention, but is getting no real play from a mainstream media and a populace who are far more interested in who stood and who sat on their cans at various points of the far-too-long speech.


President Trump supported a federal law that would allow terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs that haven’t been fully approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration.


“We also believe that patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives.  People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure—I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the “right to try.””


right to tryIt was significant in that I cannot remember the “right to try” being championed by a sitting President.  Sure, more than two-thirds of the states already have laws that allow people access to drugs earlier in the testing stage if they are terminally ill. But there’s no federal permission. Given the fact that treatments often are sought across state lines there are concerns about national policy coming into play.  This measure would give patients access to experimental treatments that have cleared the first phase of the FDA’s trials.  They would still need their doctor’s recommendation, and would no doubt have to sign a pile of paperwork the size of Mount Denali.  If the Grim Reaper is peering around the corner, staring you in the face, that would seem like a minor inconvenience.


To me this is an absolute, slam-dunk no-brainer.  By what logic and by what authority can you tell a terminally-ill person that they have no right to do everything in their power to stay alive?  What kind of monster would claim such authority?  But there are those who do.


During a debate on the measure last year, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., minority chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, offered an objection.


“The legislation being proposed could expose critically ill patients to greater harm.”


You mean, greater than death?  Like Super-Duper death?  My GOD, man!


Currently the FDA can take up to thirty days to approve waivers for experimental treatments for the terminally-ill.  The problem is, those patients sometimes don’t have thirty days. This measure would simply remove the FDA from the approval process.  The drugs and treatments are still subject to FDA review.  The only power the federal government loses is the ability to consider case-by-case requests for experimental treatment.  That’s it.


My mother died of Pulmonary Fibrosis in 1997.  At the time the doctors told us there was little they could do but they were learning more every day.  Mom and I agreed that they could do whatever they wanted, in the hopes that this will help them learn more about this disease.  Six months later, Mom was dead.  Just as the doctors had predicted.  Years later a good friend of mine got married.  I got to meet her father, who was suffering from Pulmonary Fibrosis.  He apparently had been diagnosed two years earlier.  But there he was.  Alive and using a portable oxygen tank.  He walked his daughter down the aisle.  He lived several more years.


I will never know if the chances doctors took with my mother led to medical knowledge that helped this man, and countless others, live longer lives.  But I sure like to think it did.  I can only imagine the medical knowledge that might be gained from people being freed up to allow experimental treatments when they, the doctors, and everyone else agrees they have a “right to try.”


But the measure to do just that failed in Congress last year.  I guess it is not in the DNA of some lawmakers to pass bills that increase individual freedom.  They simply can NOT relinquish any authority over us.


Some politicians are fond of telling us about tax cuts and other government moves that will “kill people.”  Here’s a chance to reduce the mythical body-count.

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