Analyzing what our General Assembly accomplished (or did not accomplish) in 2016 might make you think that the session was dominated by a spirit of division. The wrangling over the roads bill, the difficulties with the ethics bills, the back and forth between the governor’s office and the Legislature all received the bulk of the attention.
But the Legislature took some small but important steps that reflect the sense of unity, community and compassion that was so evident in the wake of the hateful shooting a year ago at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston.
Consider right to try, a bill that was passed with the teamwork and leadership of freshman Democratic Rep. Cezar McKnight and Republican Sens. Paul Campbell and Ray Cleary. Their work on this critical law is an example of what can be accomplished when the focus is not on political agendas but on helping real people.
Right to try allows terminally ill patients to try drugs that have passed Phase 1 of Food and Drug Administration testing, but have not been approved for prescription by a physician. The premise of the law, as the name suggests, is that terminally ill patients should not be hindered by government red tape from deciding, with the advice of their doctor, to try an experimental drug if conventional treatments are not working.
Every year, more than one million Americans learn that there are no more treatment options available to them. And right now there are more than 500 new cancer treatments sitting in the FDA’s painfully slow pipeline, many of which are already available to patients in Europe. These are treatments that terminally ill patients in South Carolina need — and they need them now. Right to try will give them that access.
In effect, right to try simplifies and expands the “compassionate use” program the FDA already has in place. Unfortunately, that program is too small, too expensive, too time-consuming and often too late, with many tragic stories of patients dying while waiting for approval to be part of it. Right to try puts power and choice back in the hands of Palmetto State patients when they need it most.
But right to try does not stand alone. It is part of a roster of bills that were signed into law this session that will bring real relief to South Carolinians who need it most.
There was also a new law to permit telemedicine, or virtual medicine, which will offer greater health-care access to South Carolinians, especially those living in rural areas. Then there was the volunteer-care law, which expands our Good Samaritan law, providing new incentives — at little or no cost to the state — to encourage medical professionals to donate even more of their services at free medical clinics. The safe families act almost made it to the finish line; if passed, it would allow families to take in children from families in distress.
Right to try, telemedicine, volunteer care, perhaps next year safe families — each of these bills represents an important step forward.
They do not reek of politics, but rather resonate with principle. In the best spirit of Mother Emanuel, they were not marred by partisanship and political grandstanding, but were marked by unity and putting others first. They will provide meaningful help for South Carolinians who need it most.
Dr. Smith is senior fellow at Palmetto Promise Institute; contact him at email@example.com.