Look at the picture

A picture was worth 1,000 talking points: The Des Moines Register published a photo of Margaret Gaer, 24, West Des Moines, contorted in a chair with her father, Steve, trying to comfort her. The woman is said to have the developmental abilities of a five- or six-year-old child because of chronic seizures she has suffered since birth. Margaret Gaer was brought to the Iowa Capitol as her parents lobbied for medical marijuana treatment that would help control her fits.

Another photo showed dad giving her a drink from cup and straw.

We wondered how anyone could tell her no.

But they did.

A bill introduced on Tuesday that would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to treat 16 specific maladies was declared dead simultaneously because of weak legislative support, mainly among Republicans.

It seems almost cruel.

The Gaers, a Republican family, might move to Colorado to see if they can get their daughter some relief. They join a stream of families, tens of thousands, according to USA Today, who are moving to Colorado seeking a remedy for a host of ills, mainly for seizures, chronic pain and nausea from cancer treatment.

Steve Gaer is the mayor of West Des Moines. He does not want to leave his multi-generational family business in Iowa.

“The last thing we want to do is move from Iowa, but if that’s going to help a sick family member how can you not look into that?” Steve Gaer said. “If it’s not legalized here, as a parent I have to do what’s right for Margaret.”

“We would just like some sleep,” mother Sally Gaer said. “We’d like relief for our daughter to see if her cognitive level would improve with this medication.”

They are not talking about blanket legalization for marijuana. That is an entirely separate issue that gets confused in the medical discussion. Iowa is not about to legalize marijuana. Des Moines is not Seattle.

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy in 2010 recommended allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana under limited, controlled circumstances. At that time, 67% of Iowans polled by The Register supported medical use of marijuana. Other recent national polls (Gallup, NBC Wall Street Journal, CNN) show medical marijuana support ranging from 73% to 88%. A Minnesota Poll this week by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune showed just 51% support for medical marijuana.

The proposed Iowa law would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for the following conditions: severe chronic pain, painful peripheral neuropathy, intractable nausea/vomiting, severe anorexia, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, inflammatory arthritis and hospice. Each patient would have to prove to the state that he has a qualifying illness with referrals from a primary care physician and a board-certified specialist in the area in question (for example, someone with a chronic pain would have to get clearance from a family doctor and a certified pain specialist). This is not California.

And, marijuana has been bred that contains almost no level of the psychoactive ingredient THC that gives users a buzz. A variety called Charlotte’s Web has been engineered to contain high levels of a certain chemical that battles pain and nausea while not getting the patient high, according to USA Today.

It has nothing to do with alcohol or tobacco. It has nothing to do with meth or heroin. And it really has nothing to do with stoners, given the uber-tight controls that go well beyond the prescription standards for Oxycontin or other powerful, addictive opiates. It is all right in Iowa for a physician to prescribe Marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana, that reportedly does not work that well in preventing nausea from chemotherapy, for example, while marijuana does work. It has everything to do with dying cancer patients, MS sufferers and spastic children with no relief in sight.

Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, urges patience. He says a thoughtful dialogue will bring other legislators around in time. It probably does not come soon enough for Margaret, Sally and Steve Gaer, who are pleading for some compassion.

We recall during the health care debate the argument that the government should not interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. It was described as sacrosanct. It appears that everyone, Democrat and Republican, agrees with this premise. Why, then, should responsible, board-certified physicians in Iowa not be allowed to even consider prescribing marijuana to someone who is writhing in pain and/or nausea? Look at the picture if you have not seen it. It may point out the absurdity of the issue.