March 13 (UPI) -- House Democrats on Monday blocked a Republican-sponsored bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to try experimental drug treatments that haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Right to Try Act failed to get the two-thirds of the House vote it needed to move on to the Senate with a vote of 259-140, with only 39 Democrats joining Republicans. After the vote, Republicans blasted Democrats for preventing the bill from moving forward.
"By rejecting this bill, House Democrats have tried to strip hope away from those who need it the most," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement. "For people who face terminal illnesses and a future of succumbing to their illness on the one hand or the hope of a cure on the other, we cannot let bureaucratic hurdles be the only obstacle holding them back."
But the bill had its share of critics outside the House cambers, who said it failed to address the problem of gaining access to experimental treatments because it did not require that drug companies allow those treatments to be accessed.
More than 75 patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the National Organization for Rare Disorders, opposed the measure in a letter to Congress.
"While this version of the legislation includes patient safety improvements compared to previous versions of the legislation, we reiterate our concern with creating a secondary pathway for accessing investigational therapies outside of clinical trials that would remove FDA approval and consultation, and would not increase access to promising therapies for our patients because it does not address the primary barriers to such access," the groups wrote.
Alison Bateman House, a bioethicist at New York University, told Politico that the "right-to-try approach blames an innocent entity for access problems."
"And by pushing legislation that targets the FDA, those who advocate for right-to-try are not putting forth viable solutions to these problems," House added. "The only way forward is to work with companies and to find out what would make them willing to provide their experimental products to patients who wish to try them."