In America, more than one million people die from a terminal disease every year, unable to seek treatments that could have saved their lives.
The ‘Right To Try’ Act of 2017 could offer more options to patients across the country who are terminally ill. The legislation opens the door to medications not on pharmacy shelves that have only passed Phase 1 of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.
The act has been signed into law in 37 states – including Pennsylvania neighbors Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. Under the bill, patients and their doctors work together to reach a decision for experimental treatments.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick introduced similar legislation to the House alongside Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs in February. The companion ‘Right To Try’ bill was initially presented in January by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
“Americans – our constituents – should have every opportunity to fight for their life, or the life of their loved one,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Whether it’s a father courageously battling ALS or a brave child living with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, they deserve the right to try.”
Matt Bellina, 30, is a real-life example of Fitzpatrick’s statement. Bellina was diagnosed with ALS in 2014 and has a wife and three sons. The Holland resident served in the Navy for nearly 10 years, eventually as a Lieutenant Commander.
“It’s hope,” Bellina declared.
“For us, there’s no hope. We don’t have a treatment. We don’t have anything. The fact that there is a ray of light coming through, maybe we do have a shot.”
For three years, the Have a Heart Foundation, affiliated with the Newtown Athletic Club, has helped support Bellina advocate for the Right To Try bill. Notably Jim Worthington, owner of the NAC, who met Bellina in 2015 when he joined the club.
“I was able to speak with President (Donald) Trump about the bill back stage at a rally at the Newtown Athletic Club last year,” he explained.
Bellina’s determination led Vice President Mike Pence’s office to contact him and offer to meet and discuss the Right To Try bill.
“The big hurdle was Thursday and the Senate vote, the House has never been a question to me.”
The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 94-0-1. Bellina noted his confidence in the President and VP signing off once they get the chance. The House is expected to vote on the bill when they return from break.
The ‘Right To Try’ Act will allow nearly 30 million terminally ill patients to gain access to experimental drugs, something on which America has been unable to find common ground.
“I know a person who went to Germany for treatment, it will be nice to not have to worry about travel,” Bellina admitted.
If the bill moves properly through the House it could be law by December. According to reports, there are fewer than 3% of terminally ill patients receiving entree to clinical trials in the United States.
“I’m not worried about the what-if’s (in an experimental treatment). I mean it could kill me, but the risk means hope.”