Idaho House Panel Passes 'Right to Try' Bill 

click to enlarge John Knudsen wrote to the Idaho Legislature in Feb. 2015: "I was given the death sentence five years ago." - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • John Knudsen wrote to the Idaho Legislature in Feb. 2015: "I was given the death sentence five years ago."

In what turned out to be one of the few emotional moments of the 2016 legislative season so far, Idaho citizens and lawmakers shared stories of husbands, wives, sons and neighbors who have been given what they called "a death sentence," but are looking for the "right to try" non-approved medications that might ease their pain.

Earlier this month, Boise Weekly profiled John Knudsen, a Boise man whose life was robbed by a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). Knudsen had reached out to Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) for assistance in drafting so-called "right to try" legislation. Simply put, the measure would allow Idaho patients who have been given a fatal diagnosis to access medications that have passed through the first phase of testing but not yet secured full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Wintrow stood before the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday morning to present the measure, taking a moment to acknowledge Knudsen, who was monitoring the hearing from his Boise home.

"Welcome to the committee, John, " said Wintrow. "I'm asking the committee to consider this legislation out of respect for John and his legacy."

With that, Wintrow walked her colleagues through House Bill 481, with the assistance of Boise physician Dr. James Quinn and Kurt Altman, who serves as legal counsel for the Arizona-based conservative Goldwater Institute think tank, which sponsored similar legislation that has already passed through about two dozen other states.

For the better part of an hour, Idaho lawmakers drilled into the proposed legislation and, ultimately, the majority voiced emotional support for the measure.

"I believe we have a responsibility for the safety of Idaho citizens, but we also have the responsibility to get out of the way and allow people the right to try," said Rep. Kelley Packer (R-McCammon). "I'll be supporting this."

"I was initially skeptical about this bill," said Rep. Brandon Hixon (R-Caldwell). "But it's important to put human lives ahead of our own interests. We need to give these people a chance."

"This my first term, and there's so much... let's say chatter and reports in the media that are disparaging of the Legislature," said Rep. Merill Beyeler (R-Leadore)."My heart goes out to you folks and this provides hope and that is something of value."

Ironically, it was the committee's two physicians who voiced opposition to the bill.

"I can see which way the wind is blowing. But I'm concerned. How do you know whether something works unless you complete the studies?" said House Minority Leader John Rusche, a Lewiston physician. "But 25 other states have passed this, so I guess the horse is out of the barn. I suspect there will be lawsuits out of this."

"I also have great concerns," said Rep. Fred Wood (R-Burley), committee chair and also a physician. "I think we'll see legislation in a year or two trying to force insurance carriers to pay for this."

Undeterred, the remaining committee members voted 9-2 to pass the bill, sending the measure to the full Idaho House for its consideration.
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