Government Neighbors

Proposal To Help Terminally Ill Patients Gets Notice In Legislative, Executive Branches

Vice President Mike Pence meeting with Matt Bellina.
Credit: My Right To Try Now

When then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came to the Newtown Athletic Club to speak last fall, owner Jim Worthington had one condition – Trump must meet with him to discuss the “Right to Try” effort.

Trump did meet with Worthington, and listened to what he had to say.

After that meeting, Trump indicated to Worthington that the issues surrounding Right to Try was on his agenda. The next day, it was added to the list of priorities for his first 100 days in office.

Earlier this week, President Trump’s administration threw its support behind an effort to pass legislation that would add treatment options for terminally ill patients who have no other options aside from trying possibly remedies that could extend their lives, which is the goal of the Right to Try movement.

Vice President Mike Pence met with Worthington and Matt Bellina, a Navy veteran from Northampton, about the effort to pass a Right to Try law. Bellina has been diagnosed with ALS and is hoping to try experimental treatments that could give him more time.

“There are states in this country where I could go to legally end my life, but I am not allowed to go try a drug that I believe could save my life.” Bellina has said in the past about the current approval process for new treatments.

Worthington said the meeting with the vice president was productive.

“Vice President Pence reiterated his belief that a Right to Try law is fundamentally about restoring hope and gives patients with terminal illnesses a fighting chance by giving them access to experimental drugs that have already passed the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) safety review process,” a statement from the White House reads.

The meeting came on the heals of  local Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and fellow GOP Congressman Republican Andy Biggs of Arizona introducing the Right to Try Act of 2017 in the House of Representatives.

The proposed law would let terminally ill patients, physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers administer investigational treatments where no alternative exists, according to Fitzpatrick’s office.

The Right to Try Act of 2017 was introduced as a companion to a similar bill from Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. The latest push follows an unsuccessful effort in the Senate last year and more than two dozen similar state laws.

Brian Fitzpatrick speaking in Washington
Credit: Office of Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

“Each day, families across the country receive the devastating news of a terminal diagnosis. Even with the amazing work done in American medical research and development, for too many, access to these potentially lifesaving treatments will come too late, or not at all. The Right to Try Act opens the opportunity to trial-stage care and establishes the freedom for patients and their doctors to try therapies where the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

The main problem with experimental treatments is how long it takes to get FDA approval and make it through their three-phase evaluation. In the time – in many cases multiple years – it might take for a drug to get approved, those suffering from illnesses can die.

“What are they trying to save me from? I’m dying,” Bellina said in an anecdote to Worthington.

The latest legislative efforts aren’t the first. Currently, more than two dozen states have Right to Try laws on the books and more are pushing for it. A bill similar to the Right to Try Act of 2017 was introduced into Congress in 2015 but never made it to the president’s desk for final approval.

Worthington has worked to make his Right to Try efforts on the forefront in Washington D.C. through his personal efforts and the NACares Foundation.

“We could change history and we could save or prolong hundreds of thousands of lives,” Worthington said of the effort.

About the author

Erich Martin

Erich Martin attended Bucks County Community College for two years where he was the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Centurion, the college newspaper. Erich is currently attending Temple University in order to complete his degree in Journalism. Erich was recognized at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Foundation's Keystone Press Awards in 2014 for general news. In downtime, Erich enjoys spending time with friends and family. Aside from spending time with family and reporting news, Erich loves getting engrossed in a great game, book, or movie.