President Trump on Wednesday signed into law a bill that would allow those with potentially terminal diseases to try experimental treatments and bypass the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The so-called Right to Try Act of 2017, sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., unanimously passed the Senate last August, and cleared the House last week on a party-line vote of 250-169 -- in a win for both Johnson and the Trump administration.
"Today I am proud to keep another promise to the American people as I sign the Right to Try legislation into law," Trump said Wednesday. "We're going to be saving tremendous numbers of lives."
The president said the issue was "very personal" for him.
"As I proudly sign this bill, thousands of terminally ill Americans will have the help, the hope and the fighting chance -- and I think it’s going to be better than chance -- that they will be cured, that they will be helped, that they will be able to be with their families for a long time, or maybe just for a longer time,” Trump said. “But we’re able to give them the absolute best we have at this current moment, at this current second. We’re going to help a lot of people. It’s an honor to be signing this.”
The president was joined by Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, FDA Deputy Commissioner Anna Abram and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, along with several "brave Americans" battling ALS, muscular dystrophy and other conditions.
The president said that he was seeking the "better bill" for "the people."
"Not the pharmaceutical companies, not the insurance companies--I don't care about them. I really couldn't care less," Trump said, underscoring the importance of a bill for "the people."
Trump has long supported the legislation, pushing Congress to pass the bill for the benefit of terminally ill patients during his first State of the Union address in January.
“Patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives,” Trump said during his address earlier this year. “It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the ‘right to try.’”
Johnson introduced the legislation in early 2017, authorizing patients diagnosed with life-ending illnesses to use unapproved medications—so long as they have undergone early testing on humans and are under continual evaluation. Patients also would have to have tried other treatment options.
“Today’s Right to Try bill signing was a moment of deserved celebration for everyone who fought to return a little freedom and restore hope to terminally ill patients and their families. I applaud and thank them all," Johnson said in a statement to Fox News Wednesday.
The vice president Wednesday touted the "bipartisan" legislation to "advance the interests of the American people."
"I want to thank the president who cares deeply about families of this country, especially vulnerable families--economically and families struggling with serious illness," Pence said. "President Trump has fought to advance interests of American families."
So far, “Right to Try” laws have been enacted in 40 states, according to www.righttotry.org. The only states that have not yet adopted the law at the state level are Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Kansas, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
“The FDA drug approval process can take up to 15 years. This is far too long for dying patients to wait,” the Right to Try website states. “Right to Try gives life-saving hope back to those who’ve lost it.”
But Democrats have been critical of the legislation, saying it would “peddle false hope” and place patients at risk.
Over 100 groups representing patients and research groups called the final legislation Tuesday “unsafe.”