Dunne’s assurances on cannabis mean little

By June 13, 2015 Recent News

NZ Herald 13 June 2015
Understandably enough, the Renton family have been doing all they can to get the best possible treatment for their teenage son, Alex, who is in an induced coma in Wellington Hospital.

After more than 20 standard medications failed to cure his ongoing seizures, they set their sights on a cannabis-derived medication, Elixinol. Protests staged by the family and their supporters to try to get the Government to approve its use gained widespread media coverage. Finally, this week, they got their wish.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has gone where, earlier, the Rentons’ Nelson MP, Nick Smith, refused to. Dr Smith said he would need clear evidence that Elixinol would work before he took up the issue. That cannot be forthcoming for the simple reason that it has never been tested in clinical trials. As Mr Dunne conceded, there is no compelling evidence it will work. The best that specialists can come up with is that it might be worth a try.

For that reason, Mr Dunne was keen to stress that his approval should not be construed as setting a wider precedent. But how can it not be? What will happen if there are further cases where this or another untested cannabis-derived medication represents a final chance? If the ailing patient’s family succeeds in attracting publicity, will Mr Dunne also accede to their wishes? He says the protests organised by the Renton family did more harm than good. Like his claim that this was not a precedent-setting case, that should be treated with a strong degree of scepticism.