Congressional Record

Trent Franks Fights for Terminally Ill British Baby's Access to Medical Care, but Not Yours

Arizona Congressman Trent Franks typically refuses to support anything that would make it easier for people to immigrate to the United States.

He's also not exactly known for his stellar record on health care, having voted in favor of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which is predicted to leave upward of 20 million people uninsured and unable to afford health care in an emergency.

So it's somewhat ironic that Franks is planning to introduce legislation that would grant permanent residency to a British couple so that their terminally ill child can get medical care in the United States.

Last week, Franks and Ohio Congressman Brad Wenstrup inserted themselves into the midst of the international controversy surrounding 11-month-old Charlie Gard, who suffers from a rare genetic disease that prevents him from being able to see, hear, move, or breathe on his own.

Gard's parents have been fighting for him to receive an experimental treatment that has yet to be approved by the FDA and is believed to have a 10 percent chance of success. British doctors initially said that any attempts at extending his life would be futile and "would prolong Charlie's suffering." A judge agreed, ruling that he should be taken off life support.

Then, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center jumped in and offered to perform the treatment. The case is now headed back to court.

Franks' involvement is, of course, politically motivated.

American conservatives seized on the dispute as the opportunity to critique the U.K.'s single-payer health care system, invoking the fear of "death panels," in which sick people are sentenced to death because it would be too expensive to keep them alive. (That, of course, ignores the fact that people in the United States routinely go bankrupt in the process of trying to provide medical care for their kids.)

In a statement released Friday, Franks and Wenstrup framed the decision to take Gard off life support as a classic case of government overreach.

"When government is able to overrule a parent or guardian in determining a patient’s best interest, every vulnerable patient is put at risk," they write.

"Our bill will support Charlie’s parents’ right to choose what is best for their son, by making Charlie a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. in order for him to receive treatments that could save his life."

So does that mean that, say, a Syrian refugee who needs a medical procedure that can only been performed in the U.S. could apply for legal residency? Nope.

The legislation that Franks and Wenstrup plan to introduce would be a private bill, meaning that it would only apply to Charlie Gard and his parents. Anyone else with a terminally ill child who wants to move to the United States so that their kid can get medical treatment is out of luck.

It's not entirely surprising that Franks got involved in this particular controversy: The battle over whether Charlie Gard should come off life support has been co-opted by the pro-life movement, in which Franks is deeply entrenched.

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Brianna Huey and her boyfriend, Malcom Williams, and Huey's two children, Eastahn and Melianna, pose with Representative Trent Franks at his congressional office. The Huey family relies on health care coverage from the government and urged Franks to not support the Senate bill.
Lindsay Moore
But the timing is surreal. As Franks and Wenstrup fight to make sure that one specific child gets access to the American health care system, people with pre-existing conditions are occupying Republican senators' offices and begging them to vote against the BRCA, which is projected to leave 22 million people without insurance and therefore unable to afford necessary medical care.

Last week, Franks met with Brianna Huey, who lives in his district and has been diagnosed with a number of health conditions, including fibromyalgia and neuropathy. Both her children also have serious illnesses. Combined, the three of them have already made upward of 30 trips to the emergency room this year.

Franks listened to their story and took a picture with them, telling 2-year old Melianna Huey, who suffers from dysphagia and has to be fed primarily through a feeding tube, "God hasn't forgotten about you."

He admitted that the GOP's proposed alternative to the Affordable Care Act had flaws, telling activists, "I don’t believe it’s perfect at all. All you have to do is look at my quotes in the media and I find a lot wrong with it.”

But, he acknowledged, he'd voted for it nonetheless.

"It’s better than what we have right now," he claimed.