POLITICIANS enjoy beating their chests about "zero tolerance".
On drugs. Binge drinking. Bullying. Sexual harassment. But what about zero tolerance for suffering?
As a society we allow our weakest - those with cancer, AIDS, chronic arthritis, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis - to writhe in pain because they can't get the right drugs. Many are helpless, innocent children.
An AMA study out today reveals 84 per cent of cancer kids suffer "a lot" or "a great deal" of pain in the last month of their life.
Just stop for a minute to imagine what that's like. You know your beloved son or daughter is dying. You sit by their bedside and watch as the life ebbs from their body: the circles darken under their eyes; their bones protrude from their limbs; the colour saps from their skin. The nurse injects morphine but it doesn't cap the breakthrough pain.
Morphine is a terrible drug with nasty side effects. Many people are allergic to it. For some, it doesn't work at all. When my mum was dying of pancreatic cancer, she begged me to buy marijuana. The shooting pain that frayed every nerve ending was too much to bear. Ultimately, I was too much of a coward. It's a decision I regret to this day.
There's a growing body of research proving cannabis - either smoked or in a liquid - eases the excruciating pain of cancer patients, the spasms of MS sufferers and the crippling effects of arthritis. The active ingredient, THC, slows the progress of Alzheimer's, reduces tumour growth in lung cancers and inhibits the spread of breast cancer.
While proof of its efficacy is new, the use of medical marijuana is not. Since the 3rd Century AD, the Chinese have considered cannabis one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional medicine. It took 16 centuries for western medicine to catch on, using it as a pain reliever until aspirin came along.
Now, in 14 states in the US, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands, you can get a doctor's certificate to grow your own or buy a liquid version from a pharmacist. So where does that leave us? Back in the dark ages.
You wouldn't treat a dog the way we treat our terminally ill. Despite support from the Country Women's Association, Law Society, Cancer Council and medical community, our PM is out to prove he's tough on drugs.
"I've always had a very tough line on this stuff - really, really hard line," Mr Rudd once told Channel 9. "I'm in John Howard's camp on this one. We have a unity ticket."
The dangers of smoking marijuana are well documented: mental illness, cancer, heart attack and immune disorders. Clearly, it shouldn't be legalised. But it should be available to alleviate suffering.
Victorian doctors want to trial a cannabinoid mouth spray, Sativex, for patients with MS. They'll need the dexterity of Circus Oz to jump through all the hoops - all for a drug that's legal in the UK, Europe and US.
Back home, NSW's last attempt went up in smoke. In 2003 then-Premier Bob Carr announced a trial of medical cannabis after being moved by the suffering of Upper House MP Paul O'Grady. It didn't go ahead because of issues with drug importation.
In the meantime, thousands of ordinary Australians risk fines or jail trying to ease the suffering of their loved ones. When Jesus said, "suffer the little children", I don't think this is what he had in mind.
By Tracey Spicer
January 18, 2010
The Daily Telegraph