A bill to allow terminally ill patients the right to try experimental drugs earned initial approval from the Maine House Tuesday. The vote was 114-28.
“In cases of terminal illness, I believe it should be the patient’s decision to explore using innovative treatments that are already in the approval pipeline,” said Rep. Tom Longstaff, D-Waterville, a former hospital chaplain who sponsored the measure. “It’s really about giving people the choice.”
The bill, LD 180, would allow eligible terminally ill patients access to drugs that have completed the first phase of U.S. Food and Drug Administration clinical trials but have not yet been approved for general use.
At the public hearing last year, the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers was among those supporting the bill.
“We believe that when patients have run out of traditional options, if they wish to use experimental medicines, there can be two good outcomes,” said Susan Lamb, executive director of the organization. “The patient is at peace knowing they have tried all options, and it is possible that some of these treatments will lead to new discoveries in medicine that may prolong a person’s life or even make their end-of-life experience less uncomfortable.”
The FDA currently has a process to allow dying individuals access to drugs that are still in clinical trials, but Longstaff’s measure would streamline the process by creating a mechanism to access these treatments directly for patients with six months or less to live.
The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate
Longstaff is serving his third term in the Maine House. He is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and represents part of Waterville.