Florida Council of Bishops Attacks Right to Try Law– What Will This Mean?

Okay, so let’s put this issue in context. I am not an atheist.(Although my sister is– hi, Chris!) But the actions of religious groups related to Right to Try laws are becoming really disturbing, and quite honestly, hypocritical as could be. Hypocrisy has got to be my least favorite quality, and the Florida Council of Bishops is putting on a big display of that quality right now.

On one hand, they’re demanding that “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this” shouldn’t have to provide contraception coverage for employees under federal law. (See? Right here. Catholic Bishops Demand All Businesses Be Given The Right To Deny Women Contraception Coverage

BUT all that concern about individual rights was trashed when it came to Florida’s Right to Try law last month.Basically, here’s what happened:

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and Florida Right to Life now oppose the Senate version of the “Right to Try Act” (SB 1052) because Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the bill sponsor, has added a provision dealing with end-of-life decisions by the patients.

The groups are specifically questioning an amendment that would let Florida join more than two dozen states that allow frail or terminally ill patients to arrange for a “physician order for life-sustaining treatment” (POLST), which outlines specific end-of-life procedures. For instance, the POLST — which is an arrangement between the patient and his or her physician — could determine whether the patient would receive tube feedings or would opt for medical care for “comfort only” rather than more intensive treatments.

So what does this really mean? They’re willing to keep terminal patients from the right to try experimental drugs so that they can keep people from the right to end their own lives. Whatever happened to ALL that concern about civil liberties they had for business owners???

See what I mean about the hypocrisy?

I don’t think you can really expect any other behavior from the Florida Right to Life group, but it’s actually very disturbing to see this from a state Council of Bishops. What does it mean? Would the Vatican make the same decision for the church as a whole? Will it be happening soon? What does Pope Francis have to say about this? These are questions that need to be answered, and I don’t see that happening now.

What bothers me most is that I don’t think religious groups like this one have even figured out yet that Right to Try will be strongly related to stem cell based therapies. And right now, the stem cell therapies that have made it through Phase I treatments and have published such positive results are based on embryonic stem cells. My personal opinion is that this situation will not be changing anytime soon– the embryonic cells are the ones that work. Adult stem cells are useless by comparison, and induced pluripotent stem cells are many years away from becoming practical treatments (if it ever happens at all.)

So what happens when these kinds of religious groups finally get wise and figure it out? Well, we already know what the Catholic Church’s stance has always been on embryonic stem cells, and this has not changed because of Pope Francis. I don’t see any sign that it will change. How will they react when the truth starts to dawn on them?

I don’t know. But I do think that this will happen, and we all need to be aware of that fact. We’re headed for a showdown with Right to Try and an awful lot of religious groups, the Catholic Church being primary among them. I don’t know how it will all end. But I do know that the fight will begin at some point. God help us all when it does.

Cathy Danielson
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Cathy Danielson

In 2011, my life was shattered when I was diagnosed with a mysterious, incurable disease that always ends in blindness. The only hope on the horizon was a drug that broke all barriers in early testing. This drug, which replaces damaged cells in the eye, comes from the new class of stem cell based treatments that could cure the incurable, providing hope for patients with cancer, heart failure, ALS, cerebral palsy, and many more fatal and disabling diseases.

I survived the disease, and I now have the only remission on record. But a remission is not a cure. The stem cell drug I need for a real cure is now rapidly moving towards approval in the rest of the world, but in the USA, it—and all other cellular therapies-- are still stuck behind prejudice, ignorance, and lack of funding. Hundreds of millions of desperate patients with incurable diseases need these drugs.

That’s why I’ve gone on to fight for greater public education on stem cell drugs, knowing that our laws must be changed so that all of us can get access to the best treatments instead of our health and our lives being held hostage by special interests.

I’m now a patient advocate whose work on stem cells and patients’ rights has been published in outlets such as the Oregonian. I am a manager at popular science and financial blog www.stemcellinvestor.com and a frequent speaker at many venues across the spectrum, including churches, scientific conferences, and atheist groups, and everything in between. I’m also an advocate for Right to Try laws that would allow access to experimental medication for terminal patients at the state level. Read the entire story in my upcoming book, And the Blind Shall See: A Skeptic Patient Surprised by Faith, Science, Family, and Miracle Cures.
Cathy Danielson
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