Dad & Activist Dying of ALS Deems Donald Trump an 'Existential Threat' During DNC Speech

Ady Barkan accused Trump of "trying to take away millions of people's health insurance" in the midst of a pandemic

ady barkan
Ady Barkan speaks during Tuesday night's Democratic National Convention. Photo: PBS

Ady Barkan, a father and "Medicare for All" activist who was diagnosed with the terminal illness ALS in 2016, castigated President Donald Trump's healthcare policies during an appearance at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday.

“Even during this terrible crisis, Donald Trump and Republican politicians are trying to take away millions of people’s health insurance," Barkan, 36, said. "With the existential threat of another four years of this president, we all have a profound obligation to act, not only to vote, but to make sure that our friends, family, and neighbors vote as well.”

Paralyzed by the neurological disease and speaking through a computerized voice, Barkan called on others to instead vote for Joe Biden, saying, he would be a "compassionate and intelligent president" — a loosely veiled comparison to Trump.

One of Trump's primary goals throughout his presidency has been to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which was introduced in 2010 under his predecessor Barack Obama. Biden has promised to protect the law from being repealed if he is elected in November, though he has not embraced the universal healthcare proposals of more progressive advocates like Barkan.

"We live in the richest country in history and yet we do not guarantee this basic human right," Barkan said Tuesday at the DNC.

Speaking with The New York Times ahead of his convention appearance, he said: "I want to convey two ideas: that defeating Trump is essential, even if you don’t love Joe Biden, and that none of our struggles will be over after this election. We need to keep on keepin’ on."

The second night of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention focused in large part on healthcare, seen as one of Trump's chief liabilities given the rising popularity of the ACA and the lack of a Republican alternative. By contrast, conservatives say the law and more progressive proposals would overburden patients and hand over too much government authority.

Barkan, a former social justice lawyer, wrote last year's memoir Eyes to the Wind partially as a message to his young son, Carl, to read when he grows older — after Barkan has died.

ALS is an incurable nervous system disease that weakens nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The average survival time post-diagnosis is three years, though as many as 20 percent of patients live more than five years and some have lived as many as 20 years after their diagnosis.

Barkan's book was also published to help advocate for the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare, and “Medicare for All" policies.

Once he says Biden is elected president, Barkan implored on Tuesday: "We must act together and put on his desk a bill that guarantees us all the healthcare we deserve."

Ady Barkan
Ady Barkan. Michael Nigro/Pacific Press via ZUMA
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ady Barkan
From left: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ady Barkan in 2019. Ady Barkan/Twitter

The forward for Barkan's 2019 memoir was written by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30, who he first met when she was campaigning for Congress during the 2018 election cycle.

“The prevailing emotion I recall upon meeting Ady for the first time can be summed up as: Peace,” she wrote in the book's opening, adding that the author's "example is for all of us to follow."

"“There is no act too small, no person too powerless, no moment too late to make a difference," she wrote.

While speaking about health insurance policies in the U.S., Barkan told PEOPLE last year that "it doesn’t have to be this way," while he described the struggles millions of people across the country face when it comes to affording healthcare.

"Right now, millions of people are uninsured, even more get necessary care denied every year by their insurance companies, and too many people are cutting their pills in half because they can’t afford the cost of prescriptions," Barkan said then. "Endless hours on hold, fighting with insurance industry representatives who have a built-in profit motive to try and deny coverage to people."

He added: "That system works great if you’re an insurance or pharmaceutical industry executive, but it doesn’t work for anyone else, and it just doesn’t need to be this way."

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