Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the oldest sitting member of Congress and a healthcare giant who helped steer the Affordable Care Act through passage, has died at 88.
According to her chief of staff, Slaughter fell last week at her Washington, D.C., home and had been in treatment and monitoring for a concussion at George Washington University Hospital.
Slaughter, the first woman to chair the House Committee on Rules and co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, was a key figure in passing the ACA. This was one major step in her long history as a major congressional leader in health policy who focused on overlooked or marginalized people and issues. She grappled with politically difficult policies and pushed them, often for years, until they became law.
It took 14 years for Slaughter to pass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which bans carriers and employers from using a person's family medical history showing hereditary illness to hire or fire. The legislation was passed in 2008, and was hailed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) as "the first civil rights bill of the new century."
In the early 1990s, Slaughter pushed the first major federal funding for breast cancer research at the National Institute of Health — $500 million. Her efforts to repair the medical research imbalance that emphasized clinical trials on diseases that affect white men rather than those that hit women and minorities disproportionately led to the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993.
"Her tireless leadership was invaluable to passing legislation to expand access to affordable, high-quality healthcare and to help young people climb the ladders of opportunity with a good education," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "She made it her mission to help every man and woman chase their American Dream."
A microbiologist, Slaughter became known for introducing her signature legislation aimed at protecting antibiotic use for humans, known as the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, to every Congress since 2007. The bill was first introduced in 1999, but Slaughter took over as the primary sponsor in 2007.
She was the first to confirm that 80% of U.S. antibiotics are used on food animals kept in poor living conditions by manufacturers and injected with antibiotics in order to keep them alive for butchering. Slaughter reiterated the "dire public health consequences" of this practice that leads to antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans.
Through Slaughter's urging, former HHS Secretary Katherine Sebelius developed with the Center for Disease Control a national plan to fight antibiotic resistance in 2011. Slaughter pressured major players in the industrial food world to cut back the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry, and in 2015 McDonald's and Costco both announced they would no longer use "critically important" antibiotics in chicken.
In his statement, Senate Minority Leader and fellow New Yorker Charles Schumer called Slaughter a "giant."
"She had deep convictions — on both issues important to the people of Rochester, and for the integrity and honesty of the political system," Schumer said. "Throughout her entire career, Louise worked with people from so many different philosophies and backgrounds, because she was such a genuine human spirit. The ferocity of her advocacy was matched only by the depth of her compassion and humanity. Her passing will leave a gaping hole in our hearts and our nation."