Reefer Madness In Illinois
A couple of years ago, a physician from the Chicago area wrote a remarkable piece about a former patient who had died of lung cancer. In the article, published in the June 2011 issue of Medical Economics, the author changed the names of the patient and his family members in the interest of preserving their confidentiality. At the risk of tipping my hand, I personally knew the individuals in the story. Very, very well.
In any event, after describing the patient, “Jim,” his wife, “Trish,” and their relationship, she got to the crux of the story:
I still remember the day a few years ago that Jim, now 50, came in to discuss x-rays that had been done at the hospital for a 3-week cough. His chest x-ray showed a right hilar density that proved to be small cell carcinoma. Jim rallied from the depression he had recently been feeling and set out to fight this darker terror with everything in his being.
Too late, he and Trish finally quit smoking. I’m sure the rest of the story will sound familiar to many readers: chemotherapy; radiation to lung, bone, and brain; sepsis; agonizing pain from bone metastases; and hemiplegia from a late brain metastasis. Jim insisted on a full-scale war against his cancer with everything available. It wasn’t enough, and he finally succumbed a year and a half after his diagnosis.
When the good doctor said “Jim insisted on a full-scale war against his cancer,” she wasn’t exaggerating. “Jim,” as it happens, was the adoptive father of his wife’s 13-year-old daughter, whose biological father essentially abandoned her, and “Jim” swore that no matter what happened to him, his daughter – his daughter, goddammit; the guy who disappeared into thin air was no father to her – would never doubt how hard he fought to be there for her. He might die in the process; he did, in fact, die in the process; but his daughter would always know that “Jim” never gave up and never abandoned her.
So it was an awful, terrible battle that left him, as the doctor said, in “agonizing pain” (again, no exaggeration) for weeks and months as he kept his promise to his daughter that he’d never stop fighting, even after he was long past the tilting-at-windmills stage of the fight. And there wasn’t much anyone could give him to relieve the suffering he endured in those last painful months. Nothing legal, anyway.
I watched that process. I’m sure many readers have watched friends and family members go through the same sort of thing. Indeed, many of you may have gone through similar battles yourselves. It’s a life altering thing, watching someone you’ve known all your life, somebody who seemed almost invincible to you when you were a kid, not just die but sort of fade away over a period of several long, painful months. Only fade doesn’t do it justice; fading would have been preferable to the kind of agony he suffered until they could get the narcotics just right … and by then, there were only days left.
Which brings me to this, from the Chicago Tribune:
The Illinois House today approved a measure to let people use marijuana for medical purposes, giving the proposal its best chance of becoming law in recent years.
The House sent the bill to the Senate on a 61-57 vote. The Senate previously has passed similar legislation.
Proponents say the legislation, which would set up a four-year pilot program, would be the most restrictive in the nation. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of marijuana use for medical purposes.
At the Capitol earlier today, Gov. Pat Quinn said he is “open-minded” on the issue. Quinn said he heard a story from a military veteran during a meeting in the governor’s statehouse office that provided compelling reasons to use cannabis for relief of pain.
“He was suffering from war wounds and found definite help by medical use of marijuana,” Quinn said. “I was quite impressed by his heartfelt feeling. I’m certainly open-minded to it.”
Marijuana, despite drawing questions and controversy, is seen by supporters as a progressive and safer alternative to harsh medication in treatments of various chronic illnesses like cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis.
Under this bill, an individual could be prescribed no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a two-week period. A doctor who prescribes marijuana must have had a prior and ongoing relationship with the patient—a move to lessen the chance that doctors could give out prescription weed willy-nilly.
Additional restrictions and regulations create numerous other hurdles before a person could get cannabis. The prescribing doctor must be licensed to practice in Illinois.
Hmm. Better late than never, I suppose.
So, hooray for us! I guess. Illinois just might join the seventeen other states and the District of Columbia in allowing patients with terminal or severe chronic illnesses to use a medication that is, by all accounts, the only thing that will give them relief. Is there’s any meaningful justification for denying that medication to people who are suffering to that extent? Let’s pat ourselves on the back for maybe, possibly, being slightly less barbaric in our treatment of the dying and the chronically ill. It’s about freaking time.
By the way, if you could’ve seen the metric ton of controlled substances they brought home with “Jim” so that he could get through his final days, you’d have to wonder why he couldn’t have a little bud to ease his suffering, too. There’s a word for that: madness.
David von Ebers
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