In memory of Louise Slaughter

16 Mar 2018

In memory of Louise Slaughter

Rep. Louise Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, who championed women’s rights and American manufacturing for more than three decades as a Democratic congresswoman died Friday at George Washington University Hospital. She was 88 and the oldest sitting member of Congress.

A microbiologist with a master’s in public health, she moved to western New York with her husband in the 1950s and entered politics two decades later, after campaigning to preserve a stand of beech-maple forest near their home in the Rochester suburbs.

AMR champion

Last year she introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). The bill aimed to save eight critical classes of antibiotics from being routinely fed to healthy animals and would reserve them only for sick humans and sick animals.

As the only microbiologist in Congress, Slaughter led the national effort to combat the spread of antibiotic resistance and preserve their effectiveness. In addition to writing PAMPTA, she also introduced a bill to require robust reporting of antibiotic use by factory farms. After leading an investigation into fast food company policies on antibiotic use, she called on McDonald’s to make their meat more sustainable by only using beef raised without antibiotics.

She said: "This year marks the fortieth year since the FDA first acknowledged the dire threat of antibiotic-resistance and called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in animals. Although I have been sounding the alarm for years, many leaders have failed to take this threat seriously. All the while, the consequences have continued to grow, with the discovery last year of an antibiotic-resistant superbug in the United States that couldn’t be killed by any known drug. It is beyond time for meaningful action to protect the public health and stop this in its tracks. We must break the stranglehold the pharmaceutical industry and corporate agriculture have on our public health policy and finally pass this bill,” said Slaughter.

Relentless campaigner

Rep. Slaughter was unable to pass restrictive antibiotics legislation. Her proposal, introduced in each congressional session since 2007, helped draw national attention to the issue. In 2015, President Barack Obama announced a $1.2 billion, five-year plan to identify emerging ‘superbugs’ and increase funding for new antibiotics and vaccines.

Rep. Louise Slaughter voted against DOMA, the Defense Of Marriage Act, in 1996 while most of her fellow Democrats voted for it. She celebrated 17 years later when the court struck it down.

“As one of only 67 members of Congress who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, I am delighted that the Supreme Court has finally struck down this discriminatory act, ruling that same-sex marriages are equal in every way,” Rep. Slaughter said. “I am also delighted that our LGBT friends in California will no longer be barred from marrying the one they love. The court’s narrow decision on California’s Prop 8, however, means that same-sex couples in 38 states are still barred from equal marriage rights. I will not stop advocating for our LGBT friends until they are granted full equality in every state in our union.”

Fearless fighter

Initially one of just 29 women in the House of Representatives, Rep. Slaughter was an advocate of women’s access to health care and abortion. She was a co-author of the landmark Violence Against Women Act, a landmark 1994 law aimed at staunching domestic abuse and aiding its victims, and in 1991 was part of a group of seven Democratic congresswomen who marched to the Senate to demand a delay in the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Slaughter’s interest in addressing science and health-related issues can be traced back to her roots. After the childhood death of her sister from pneumonia, she decided to study microbiology and public health. She used her study and passion to pass the Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), which was described by the late Senator Edward Kennedy as the “first civil rights legislation of the 21st Century.”