Mar 13, 2002
By Rosella Lorenzi
A judge has forced Italy's national health system to allow a woman with terminal lung cancer to use marijuana-based drugs for pain treatment.
Venice's magistrate Barbara Bortot ruled Tuesday that the local medical authorities of San Dona di Piave, near Venice, where the woman lives, must obtain the drugs abroad and then provide them free of charge to the patient.
The patient asked the permission of the magistrate, since cannabis-based painkilling drugs are banned in Italy.
Judge Bortot ruled that the right to health, decreed in article 32 of the Constitution, allows the use of the drugs.
"When there is an insuppressible need for which the national healthcare doesn't offer alternative remedies, the individual's right to health imposes without limits or conditioning of any sort," wrote the judge.
It is the first time that Italy's national health system has been obliged to provide banned drugs free of charge.
While Canada, the UK, Spain, Australia, Holland and some US states have legalised the use of marijuana as a treatment for chronic illnesses, in Italy there is no legal way to obtain it but to ask a magistrate.
Judge Bordot took into consideration the patient's terminal illness. According to the magistrate, in this case "the massive use of painkilling drugs allowed in the country is totally useless and moreover can cause further damage."
According to the ruling, San Dona di Piave's local medical authorities will have 30 days to provide the patient with the drugs. Italy will probably request them from the Bureau for Medicinal Cannabis of the Dutch Health Ministry, according to the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The ruling could pave the way for many other requests from patients with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, said the Italian Association for Therapeutic Cannabis.
"It is a ruling that gets Italy closer to the rest of Europe. We hope
this will become a precious precedent for all those who claim the right
of using cannabis as a therapeutic drug," the association said in an official
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited