Senate Leaders, Let Us Live and Die With Dignity

A medical marijuana advocate holds a sign during a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Dozens o
A medical marijuana advocate holds a sign during a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Dozens of advocates for legalizing medical marijuana are blaming Gov. Andrew Cuomo for stalling the so-called "Compassionate Care Act." Patients who would benefit from medical marijuana are asking Cuomo to support passing the measure before session concludes this week. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

If New York State Senate leaders get their way, I may not live to see the Compassionate Care Act -- a bill to create a well regulated medical marijuana program for seriously ill or debilitated New Yorkers -- become law. But I want to spend, what may be some of my last weeks, fighting for the right of others suffering with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and other serious conditions. Why? Because my own journey with cancer has taught me a lot about human suffering and human dignity, and I want to take a stand for the right of all seriously ill patients to live and end their lives with dignity and compassion.

In 1992, I was diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer. I had two years of internalradiation, two years of chemotherapy and had 42 lymph nodes removed. I suffered terrible pain, andI wish I had been able to try medical marijuana because the pain medicationsI was prescribed did not help. I have talked to people living with cancer who are clear that, without medical marijuana, they would not have been able to endure the pain and nausea from their treatments. These experiences are supported by a strong body of research showing that cannabis is effective in treating both the pain and nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy. But because I live in New York and not one of the 22 states with legal access to medical marijuana -- as sick as I was -- I could not obtain the medicine that would help me.

But there is an alternative for patients like me; it's called the Compassionate Care Act, and our legislature has had 17 years to consider it. The Compassionate Care Act would allow a healthcare provider to recommend medical marijuana to patients with one of twenty serious or debilitating medical conditions, like cancer. After registering with the state Department of Health, such patients could then purchase up to 2.5 ounces medical marijuana to help alleviate their symptoms. The bill was written with careful, strict controls and has been amended to address the concerns that some Republican senators raised about smoking and possible diversion. The bill before the Senate now would create one of the nation's most rightly regulated programs.

The Compassionate Care Act is now in the Rules Committee, the final committee before a full floor vote by the Senate. But Governor Cuomo has said he doesn't support the bill, and our Senate leaders have still not committed to allowing a vote on the bill. If the it doesn't pass the Senate before June 19th, the bill will die and cannot be reconsidered until January 2015. The Governor and Senate leaders are apparently untroubled by the continued suffering of thousands of sick New Yorkers, like me, or by the fact that dozens of New York families have already relocated to other states to gain access to the medicine they need.

Unfortunately, my cancer has returned and has metastasized. I live in severe pain with the hopelessness and grief that my life will end shortly. I would have liked to ease my suffering at the end of my life with legal access to a medication that I know works. Instead, I am spending my last days pleading with politicians in Albany, who clearly do not feel the same sense of urgency as those of us suffering each day. It may be too late for the Compassionate Care Act to help me. But I beg leaders in Albany to allow others to end their lives with some dignity, some relief, and some compassion. I beg them to pass the Compassionate Care Act before June 19th.

Anita Savello is an end-stage cancer patient living on Long Island, New York.