Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Docs caught between
pot and politicos

Poor Hawaii doctors. First the so-called "death with dignity" crowd want doctors to become the state's executioners, and then the federal prosecutor threatens to jail 'em for prescribing marijuana for patients in pain.

Why are doctors always set up as the bad guys in these morality plays?

Both issues -- the "right to die" and the "right to buy" -- are moot for now, so doctors can go back to doing what they do best: begging HMOs to allow them to give necessary care to patients and watching their malpractice insurance shoot into the sky like fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night. (Guy Fawkes Night is a yearly fiery British celebration recalling an attempt to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. I believe it was a religious rebellion, not an attempt by physicians of the time to get the government and insurance companies off their backs, but I could be wrong.)

While taking no position on the issue of whether Hawaii should be a "right to die" state, I merely suggest that it's unseemly to force doctors to be the ones who pull the trigger (or push the needle). If the state wants assisted suicide as an option for terminally ill patients, it should appoint an official state suicide officer, something akin to the state auditor or the head of the Department of Building Permits and General Hassles. I suspect the "first do no harm" direction in the Hippocratic oath was in part to discourage docs from actually killing people.

IT WASN'T long after the state Legislature failed to pass an assisted suicide bill that the U.S. Supreme Court suddenly thrust doctors into the middle of another moral/legal morass by outlawing medical marijuana.

Tough-talking Hawaii federal prosecutor Ed Kubo promptly threatened island doctors with prosecution should they prescribe pot for patients. Tough talk is expected from the U.S. attorney, but it should be directed at CRIMINALS, not doctors who are trying to save lives and ease pain and probably are just as confused about dueling state and federal medical marijuana laws as anyone.

The ACLU Hawaii chapter rightly threatened to sue the U.S. attorney's office for bullying the doctors, prompting Kubo to rethink his position. Now he says he will only bust doctors who actually take part in the distribution of illegal drugs (i.e., criminals), not those who merely certify that certain patients should be allowed a few hits of weed to ease their suffering. I have a feeling that was his position the whole time, but he just got carried away with the emotion of the Supreme Court ruling slamming the door on the most benign use of marijuana.

So doctors are off the hook (and needle) for now. If state officials really think marijuana should be available for medical patients, the Legislature should pass and the governor should sign a bill that would open an Official State Office of Medical Marijuana Availability. Then certified patients can get their medicinal herb directly from the State Pot Store. Then, if the federal prosecutor feels so inclined, he can then threaten to throw legislators and government officials in prison and leave the poor doctors alone.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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