Physicians' Perspective - Medical Rights 2002: From Exam Room to Ballot Choice by Dr. Rick Bayer
This November, Oregonians will vote on three crucial clinical issues affecting private medical choices decided between a patient and his/her personal physician. This election deserves your vote.
1. Reproductive rights include abortion, contraception, sterili-zation, morning-after pills, family planning, accurate sex education, and prevention & treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Democrats are clearly the pro-choice party on reproductive issues.
2. End-of-life care. Citizens must decide: Should we make our own end-of-life medical choices or will we let those choices be seized by the politicians of the religious right? I defend Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act but oppose euthanasia. I support allowing a terminally ill adult to hasten his/her inevitable death, because this puts the choice back into the patient’s hands and shines a spotlight on previously neglected end-of-life care. Oregonians have benefited from our unique law even though it is rarely used. Among the 50 states, we have some of the highest rates of hospice care and pain medicine prescription for the terminally ill. For more information, see www.compassionindying.org
3. Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA). If you are sick, do you want your choice of medicine made by you and your doctor? Or is that up to the Bush Administration? America’s war on drugs interferes with good medical care (www.alternativesmagazine.com/15/bayer.html). It is outrageous that all branches of our federal government continue to block access to marijuana (cannabis) as a legitimate herbal medicine even though it has a benefit-to-risk profile superior to many currently used medicines. Using currently available vaporization techniques, one does not even have to smoke cannabis to inhale the active ingredients. Cannabis based products are obvious alternatives when other medicines fail or cause side effects. It’s unbelievable that our federal government keeps cannabis a schedule I drug stating it has “no therapeutic value” and refuses to allow physicians to prescribe this herb even for suffering and dying patients. (To learn more about medical cannabis, see www.omma1998.org and search the medical cannabis bibliography.) Gordon Smith campaigned against OMMA in 1998 and Kevin Mannix led a hostile legislature, forcing us to seek a voter initiative as a solution. Remember that when you vote.
These three issues are always controversial to those who do not see them as medical choices but rather as a litmus test for a particular brand of religious dogma. History is full of circumstances when a tyrannical power base has sought to control or arrest persons who just wish to be left alone. Reproductive rights, end-of-life care, and best medicine are issues that must be choices between patient and doctor. Supporters of medical choice know that Republicans are not our friends. For example, “Candidate Bush” supported states’ rights, while “President Bush” unleashed Attorney General Ashcroft to attack Oregon’s Death With Dignity Law and raid medical marijuana co-ops in California.
Oregonians will also vote on a single-payer health care delivery system this fall. Universal health care is very important (www.alternativesmagazine.com/16/bayer.html), and there is already a popular single-payer system in the US called Medicare —but far too many Americans remain uninsured. Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org) reports that our government currently pays 60% of American health care bills, (more money per capita for health care than all countries except Switzerland). In other words, taxpayers already pay for national health care in dollars but we are not getting the service. To review Oregon’s single payer initiative, see www.healthcareforalloregon.org.
Of course, medical issues are only some of the important issues that voters will decide this fall. We will not always have perfect candidates to vote for and most Americans agree that campaign finance must be fixed before our democracy is crushed by corporate greed. We can also complain that our system of government is hostile to third parties, which is true. Nevertheless, pragmatic voters understand that we must exercise the rights of citizenship we have remaining and cast a ballot. We cannot become too lazy, too busy, or too disenchanted to vote. When we seek reproductive rights, end-of-life care, choice of medicine and health insurance, it may be too late if we’re asleep at the switch of democracy this fall.
Dr. Bayer is board-certified in internal medicine, a fellow in the American College of Physicians – American Society of Internal Medicine, and practiced in Lake Oswego for many years. He is co-author of Is Marijuana the Right Medicine For You? A Factual Guide to Medical Uses of Marijuana. He was a chief petitioner for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998 and manages the website www.omma1998.org that includes a medical bibliography with referenced scientific books and articles on medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids.