Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Medical Marijuana Won't Kill You, But Misguided Policies Will

Tim Garon and his guitar

The national outrage continues at the treatment of Tim Garon, who was denied a liver transplant largely because, at the advice of his physician, he used medical marijuana, which is legal in the state of Washington.

The uproar has sent the University of Washington Medical Center into full damage-control mode. They are now desperately backpedaling away from their earlier admission that Garon was, in fact, denied the transplant because of medical marijuana.

UW officials now vaguely cite "other factors," but it's too late: Two separate physicians, including transplant chief Dr. Jorge Reyes, already admitted in an Associated Press story that marijuana was the reason.

In that story, Dr. Reyes said Garon was denied the transplant because he, Dr. Reyes, feared that Garon wouldn't be able to stop smoking marijuana after the operation. And another UW doctor claimed that marijuana commonly contains mold that could cause organ rejection in a transplant patient. Both of these, bereft as they are of logic, are tacit admissions that marijuana was, in fact, the reason Tim Garon was rejected as a transplant recipient.

Meanwhile, the spin control continues, with UW communications specialist Mary Guiden today emailing me, "Although medical marijuana may be an issue in rare cases, it is never the sole determinant in arriving at medical decisions about candidates for organ transplants, and whether a patient is listed."

Guiden went on to tell me "the Liver Transplant Committee looks at a number of other issues, including behavioral concerns such as a history of substance abuse or dependency. If such a history exists, then the Committee looks at the period of abstinence the candidate has demonstrated to date, efforts made to maintain this abstinence, and the potential to abuse again."

Seems we're back to Mary Jane again, Mary. You are attempting to frame the debate in terms of "substance abuse or dependency," when we are talking about doctor-recommended use of legal medical marijuana. You are attempting to impose the model of "abstinence, and the potential to abuse again"; that's trying to impose an addiction scenario on doctor-recommended medical usage of legal medicine. That is intellectually dishonest, and morally bankrupt: You are making it sound as if Tim Garon had been sucking down gallons of whiskey or scarfing down lines of coke. Tim wasn't abusing anything. He didn't need to "abstain" from anything. He was using medical marijuana.

Folks, what we have here is a moral judgment masquerading as a medical decision.

Tim Garon did nothing wrong; medical marijuana is legal in the state of Washington, and is less toxic to the liver than anything else he could have taken to lesson his nausea and pain. As Harvard psychologist and marijuana researcher Dr. Lester Grinspoon has written on his website, "Cannabis is not hepatotoxic. You can use cannabis to treat the symptoms of hepatitis C without affecting its course. Many people who have this problem use cannabis to get symptomatic relief."

The national wave of disgust at the inhumane transplant policies of hospitals including the UW Medical Center is still growing, and continues to be expressed even in the mainstream press. The Ventura County Star in California published an excellent editorial on the topic today:

Editorial: Pot costs man shot at a liver
Is death the price of inaction?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

By the time state governments have resolved their differences over medical marijuana with the federal government, Timothy Garon will be dead, if he isn't already.

Mr. Garon, lead singer for Nearly Dan, a Steely Dan cover-band in Seattle, was reported Sunday by The Associated Press to be dying from Hepatitis C, which has destroyed his liver. He needs a new one.

He would be on an organ transplant list to have at least a crack at a new liver, if it weren't for one thing: He used medical marijuana, under the authorization of a Seattle physician, as allowed by Washington state law. Dr. Brad Roter recommended the marijuana for Mr. Garon's nausea, abdominal pain and to increase his appetite.

Little did they know that at several U.S. hospitals, people who use illegal substances — even medical marijuana where it is legal — are not eligible for a transplant. The University of Washington Medical Center has strict rules about transplant candidates' drug use, but reconsidered Mr. Garon's case when his attorney pressed the issue. Still, the university denied Mr. Garon a shot at a new liver. AP reported that UCLA Medical Center allows patients a chance to reapply for a transplant list if they stay off marijuana for six months.

The Star understands that with a shortage of organs for transplant, available organs should go to those most likely to take care of them. That is why patients who drink heavily or use illegal drugs are often excluded from transplant lists. However, it is inconceivable that a sick person a doctor has deemed a candidate for medical marijuana is lumped in the same category as a drug abuser.

It is inconceivable that in 2008, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it is deemed to have no medical use in the U.S.

That is despite a 1999 yearlong study by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science, which concluded marijuana may be effective in easing chronic pain, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, poor appetite, wasting caused by AIDS or advanced cancer, and muscular spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.

That is despite the fact that California and 11 other states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana to be recommended by doctors.

And that is despite the fact that, just this year, the American College of Physicians — 124,000 doctors of internal medicine — formally called on the federal government to ease its ban on medical marijuana.

The U.S. government has gone to such ridiculous lengths to prohibit medical marijuana that, from 1997 to 2003, it threatened to revoke doctors' federal licenses to prescribe medicine if they even discussed the benefit of medical marijuana with their patients.

Californians and residents of 11 other states that allow medical marijuana are victims of the clash of state and federal laws that has been unresolved for too long. The U.S. Supreme Court recommended in 2005 that Congress resolve the issue.

But, earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers can fire workers who use marijuana recommended by a physician.

And, today, Mr. Garon, if he isn't dead already, doesn't have a prayer.

So, be warned, medical marijuana — legal for the last 12 years in California with a doctor's authorization — could cost you your job. And if you need an organ transplant, it could cost you your life.


WARPED said...

Bottom line is that some *SELF RITCHIOUS* *A** HOLE thinks Tim Garon smoked pot and it doesn't matter to them that it was prescribed to him by his Doctor!
Personally...*to me*..they may as well be shooting him because they are killing this man.
This really makes me angry! And very sad!

☮~alapoet~☠ said...

Me too, warped.

Very angry, and very sad.

Jim Rongstad said...

I just don't get how these people can live with themselves. Do they not have any human decency in their bodies?

☮~alapoet~☠ said...

I totally agree, Jim... How do they sleep at night?