Washington, D.C. – Democrats defeated “Right to Try” legislation in the House on Tuesday that would have allowed people with terminal illnesses greater access to experimental drugs. Although the vote for the measure was 259-140, it fell short of the required two-thirds majority. Republicans nearly unanimously backed the measure while Democrats were opposed by a margin of more than 4-to-1.
The U.S. Senate passed similar legislation in August 2017 which allows for the GOP to revisit the bill under House rules that require only a simple majority for passage. Although Democrats called the bill misleading and risky, House Republicans vowed to continue to fight for passage of the proposed legislation.
“The House will not let this be the end,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
House Democrats argued that the legislation would provide little relief for patients. Additionally, they claimed that rolling back FDA oversight would create additional risks. According to the New York Times, an existing Food and Drug Administration program approves patients to try experimental treatments 99 percent of the requests it receives annually.
“The last thing I want to do is give patients false hope and to put them at risk” by reducing the FDA’s powers, said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce panel.
House Republicans resoundingly rejected that argument.
“There is no such thing as false hope. You either have hope or you have no hope,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ).
The Associated Press reports that under the proposed legislation, a doctor and pharmaceutical company would no longer need FDA approval to allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drug treatments, but the agency would be notified after the treatment began. The bill would also widely shield doctors and drug makers from legal liability and require drug manufacturers to report any potential problems – but does not require pharmaceutical companies to supply the drug.
In October, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Congress that 70 percent of the experimental drugs his agency currently allows seriously ill patients to use experimentally are never approved.
“The vast majority of people” granted access to unproven treatments “are using a drug that doesn’t work,” he said.
Conversely, that means 30 percent of experimental drugs are eventually approved and do work – which gives a terminally ill patient a better chance than without any experimental treatment.
“If I had a terminal diagnosis, I’d even consider injecting monkey urine if I thought it would give me a few more months, a few more years with my children,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).