Siobhan Reynolds, pain patient advocate, killed in plane crash
She led a lonely crusade for years until the medical community finally - and reluctantly - began to address the issue of chronic pain management.
Siobhan Reynolds took up the cause of advocating the expansive use of pain medication to treat those in chronic agony despite virulent opposition from the government whose own "war on drugs" was causing thousands of people to needlessly suffer. The government intimidates many doctors into under-prescribing pain medication out of fear that they will be prosecuted.
Reynolds was killed in a plane crash in Ohio yesterday. She was 50.
She began her advocacy following the death of her husband. She believed that his death was hastened by the inexplicable rules and regulations governing the dispensing of pain medication. She defended doctors who defied the government to prescribe opiates to dying patients in order to relieve their agony. This got her in trouble with a vindictive prosector, Tanya Treadway, who carried out a grand jury investigation of her organization, the Pain Relief Network.
What was it that so offended Treadway? Reynolds organized protests in response to Treadway's prosecution of Kansas doctor Stephen Schneider. She talked to his patients and urged them to tell their stories. Her group sponsored a billboard in Wichita that proclaimed "Dr. Schneider never killed anyone." It produced a documentary that dramatized the conflict between drug control and pain control. In short, Reynolds vigorously exercised her First Amendment rights, and she did so in a way that discomfited people in power, highlighting the human impact of their decisions. Treadway's effort to intimidate Reynolds is a tribute to her courage, persistence, and effectiveness.
No one is saying that these issues are not complicated and that dealing honestly and forthrightly with them isn't fraught with the possibility of unintended consequences. But the relief of pain, if viewed as a medical problem and not a criminal problem, is relatively easy, cheap, and would improve the quality of life of millions around the world.
There are some small signs that things are changing. A recent case in California was won by plaintiffs who sued a doctor who refused to give them easily available pain medication that would have relieved their suffering. But what is needed is a sea change in the attitudes of the medical community toward pain relief. If it comes, it will be at least partly because Siobhan Reynolds raised our awareness of the issue.