In this post, I am going to share the thesis proposal of my former student (thesis supervisee) Mrs. Beige Claudine Pialago McNeal on the applicability of Utilitarian Ethics to the medical use of cannabis. Ms. McNeal graduated BA in Philosophy from (Cum Laude) Silliman University in March 2015. I hope that this post will help philosophy students who are writing their thesis as a final requirement for their degree, as it will serve as a model thesis for them.
A Critical Appraisal of House Bill 4477 (Medical Use of Cannabis)
in the Light of John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics
Beige Claudine Pialago-McNeal
Rationale of the Study
The proposed research project aims to critically assess House Bill 4477, otherwise known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis, in the Light of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics. This is inspired by the idea that the medical use of cannabis may contribute in addressing one of the recurring problems in the Philippines, that is, the inability of the Filipinos to buy medicines, especially the imported ones. Also, with the failure of the Philippine government to provide basic healthcare services to the Filipinos, especially the poor, the legalization of the medical use of cannabis can be an alternative to such problem as it offers affordable medicine to the poor.
Cannabis is one of the most important herbal plants in China that treat malaria, rheumatism, and constipation. In India, it is used to lower fever, stimulate good appetite, cures headache, improve one’s digestion, cure venereal diseases, and induce sleep. Year by year, new discoveries of the medical use of cannabis emerged like curing patients with debilitating medical diseases such as cancer and epilepsy. Indeed, the medical use of cannabis is beneficial to the people. However, it was discovered that cannabis can cause a euphoric state of mind which tempted people to abuse it. With this discovery, people forget the medical use of cannabis; instead it is now viewed as dangerous and addictive. Despite this looming danger, which makes it very challenging to convince people to take advantage of the positive aspect of cannabis, I argue that it could be of great help to patients with debilitating medical conditions, especially the poor.
In the Philippines, we can observe that almost all medicines are expensive, especially the imported ones. Though there are many good foreign-owned pharmaceutical companies in the Philippines that manufacture different types of medicine, but Filipinos still cannot afford it because they are expensive. So why rely mostly on expensive medicines manufactured by the leading pharmaceutical companies in the country if the Philippines, as a tropical country, is so abundant with herbal plants, one of which is medical cannabis? If the Philippines, through the Department of Science and Technology, manufacture alternative medicine sourced from herbal plants like cannabis, the government will not only earn revenues but also promote the well-being of its constituents, especially the poor. In this way, the medical use of cannabis may promote greatest goodness to the greatest number of people.
But why John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics despite the many existing influential moral philosophies, such as St. Thomas Aquinas’s Christian ethics, William James’s pragmatic ethics, and Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative? These moral theories could be powerful ethical models in arguing for the legalization of the use of medical cannabis. In fact, Kant’s ethics is the most influential and famous among the existing ethical theories. However, Mill’s utilitarian ethics is even more powerful than these moral theories because it focuses on what is good for the greatest number of people, a kind of ethical theory that is needed in a society like the Philippines wrought with grinding poverty. Hence, Mill’s utilitarian ethics is more appropriate in the legalization of the medical use of cannabis because it would bring goodness to the majority. With this, we can truly say that the legalization of the medical use of cannabis will bring greatest goodness to many Filipinos, especially those who cannot afford expensive medicine.
Many scholars have already been working on the important uses and benefits of medical cannabis. Recently, scholars like Jennifer Steshyn, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, and Dr. Joseph Mercola have shared their works on how significant cannabis is as an alternative medicine.
Jennifer Steshyn’s article titled “An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Legal and Ethical Issues Regarding Medical Marijuana in the State of Florida” enumerates several discoveries of the medical use of cannabis. In fact, according Steshyn, several civilizations have discovered important uses and benefits of medical cannabis. For one, according to Steshyn, the Chinese discovered the medical use of cannabis as early as 2735 B.C. To the Chinese, as Steshyn claims, medical cannabis helps cure patients with gout, beriberi, poor memory, malaria, and rheumatism. Furthermore, Steshyn says that in 1400 B.C. the Indians used cannabis to help cure patients with congestion, asthma, coughs, dandruff, and leprosy. In the mid 1500’s, Steshyn continues, a French physician name Francois Rabelais, claimed that medical cannabis can treat burns, and relieve abdominal pain and pain from gout. In 1842, Steshyn further continues, William O’Shaughnessy discovers that medical cannabis helps alleviate mood and appetite and it can also reduce muscle spasticity and lessen nausea and pain. Lastly, Steshyn reports that in 1998, the health condition of a certain Mr. Sowell of Florida, who has kidney failure due to his glaucoma treatments, has stabilized after taking medical cannabis. As we can see, indeed, medical cannabis gives several important uses and benefits to people, one important reason that justifies its legalization in the Philippines.
Aside from the fact that cannabis has many medical uses and benefits, as Steshyn presented above, she also argues that medical cannabis is much affordable than any other synthetic medicines or chemically manufactured drugs—medicines which also happen to be less effective. Given this, we can see that the legalization of the medical use of cannabis does not only answer to the clinical needs of some, but to the majority of Filipino.
Lester Grinspoon’s work titled “A Novel Approach to the Symptomatic Treatment of Autism”, also shows the significance of medical cannabis as a cure to autism. In his article, he narrated an experience of a mother, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, who has an autistic child named J. J has an inflammatory bowel condition and a spinal cord tumor. He throws tantrums everywhere. He even hit his grandmother and eats things that should not be eaten. One time, Mrs. Lee learns that medical cannabis can be an anxiety modulator and an analgesic. At first, she let J takes Marinol. Unfortunately, just few months later, the aggressive behavior of J came back. So Mrs. Lee purchased the natural medical cannabis for $80 and cultivates it in their yard and makes cookies and tea from it. When J tried the natural medical cannabis, he became calmer and smiles often. J’s performance in school became better and better. He is not screaming for pain anymore. Thus, Grinspoon argues that medical cannabis should be available especially to patients like J, because anyone can afford the medicine even those with low income. Also, he argues that medical cannabis has lower risks because it has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.
Mercola’s article titled “The Benefits of Medical Cannabis” summarizes his interview of a certain Dr. Allan Frankel of California. In this article, Mercola says that Dr. Frankel, for seven long years, has been using medical cannabis to treat his patients at Green Bridge Medical. According to him, Dr. Frankel said that pain disorders, mood disorders, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, dystonia, and Parkinson’s disease, are the common ailments that can be cured through medical cannabis. In fact, the author said, Dr. Frankel have experienced making the lives of the two of his patients, who have dystonia, normal after taking medical cannabis for a little more than a week. Mercola reports that according to Dr. Frankel, the reason why medical cannabis is very beneficial is because it contains several medicinal compounds like cannabidoil and tetrahydrocannabinol. With this, we can see that medical cannabis is one of the important alternative medicines because it gives several benefits.
The presentations above provide a rich background to the uses and benefits of medical cannabis. However, they did not provide strong ethical foundation for the legalization of medical use of cannabis. This is the reason why I will appropriate John Stuart Mill’s moral theory in my attempt to promote the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines. Viewed from the angle of Mill’s utilitarianism, the legalization of cannabis is justified because it will produce greatest benefits (and therefore happiness) to the greatest number of Filipino people, especially the poor.
Now, it is well-known that John Stuart Mill is already a dated philosopher and that many scholars have already appropriated his brand of utilitarianism. But I believe that appropriating Mill in this particular study remains timely and that this study does not duplicate what have already been done in the past. The following reviews will prove this point.
First, Jonathan Shelley’s work titled “Critique of Mill Utilitarianism,” deals with the excellent points of Mill’s moral theory. In the first half of his work, he reviews Mill’s notion on morality. In the second half, he gives critique on Mill’s utilitarianism. According to Shelley, Mill’s ethics is simple but elegant, which is why it remains strong until today. In fact, he compares Mill’s utilitarianism with that of a tall, thin grass “that can withstand the changing winds”. With this, the author means that because of the simplicity of Mill’s ethics, it can adapt to any kind of generation, society, religion, and culture. Furthermore, according to Shelley, one of the famous arguments of Mill lies on the quality of happiness—a happiness that cannot be compared with that of the happiness of a dog. By happiness, Mill means, as the author says, bringing the greatest good to the maximum number of people. Given this, we can see that Mill’s ethics justifies the legalization of medical use of cannabis because it is concerned with the happiness of the majority. Also, as the author presented, Mill’s ethics is very much applicable to the Philippines because it can adapt to any kind of society.
Jonathan Riley, on the other hand, tackles Mill’s notion of happiness and justice in his work titled “Mill’s Extraordinary Utilitarian Moral Theory”. According to Riley, what makes Mill’s notion of happiness interesting and extraordinary is because it deals with quality and quantity. With this, he reports that what Mill means is that the pleasure one can get from the qualitative happiness is much powerful than quantitative happiness. As the author engages Chapter V of Mill’s Utilitarianism, justice is an example of a qualitative happiness. According to Mill, as Riley reported, justice here is a social system of rules and dispositions which has the ultimate goal of maximizing the pleasant feeling of security for every individual. In order to maximize this feeling, as the author said, everyone should fulfill their duties of bringing happiness to the most number of people. With this, again, we can see that we can appropriate Mill’s utilitarian ethics (especially the notion of happiness) in promoting the legalization of medical use of cannabis because the quality of happiness that we can get from the medical use of cannabis is greater and more powerful than any quantitative happiness.
Lastly, LaFave’s work “Utilitarianism,” argues that Mill’s ethics should be the ultimate standard of morality. According to her, for Mill, an action is right if it produces wide-range of happiness. But if an action produces the opposite of happiness, then it is wrong. She emphasizes a very good point of Mill which is the standard of the happiness is not based on the person making the action, but based on happiness of the most number of people. Also, she argues that Mill’s utilitarianism is a flexible moral theory because a society can change the standard of happiness depending on what brings happiness to the majority. With this, Mill’s ethics is a very appropriate moral standard of justifying the legalization of medical use of cannabis in the Philippines because one of what makes the majority of Filipino happy is to have an affordable medicine like medical cannabis.
As shown in the first half of this section, there are many recent scholars and even doctors who argue that medical cannabis is indeed useful and beneficial. Thus, medical cannabis remains one of the relevant topics that we still need to consider for study. On the other hand, as shown in the second half of the same section, several scholars argued that Mill’s utilitarianism provides a very good moral standard that is still applicable to our generation today. The peculiarity of this study is that the medical use of cannabis is applied to the Philippines from the angle of Mill’s utilitarianism. Therefore, we can say that, in addition to being timely and necessary, this study is not a duplication of what have been done in the past.
Statement of the Problem
This proposed research project argues for the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines by appropriating John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics. It will address the following questions:
- What is the specificity of House Bill 4477, otherwise known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis?
- What is John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism?
- In what ways that Mill’s utilitarianism supports and therefore justifies the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines?
Significance of the Study
This proposed research project offers an alternative to one of the problems that Philippines is facing nowadays, which is the inability of the majority of the Filipino to purchase medicines appropriate to their clinical needs. Aside from this, this study also helps us understand the science behind the medical cannabis as to why it is beneficial to the patients, especially those with debilitating medical conditions. Finally, this study contributes a new perspective to the different fields of study.
First, in the field of Philosophy, this study helps us widen our understanding of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism. It gives us a deeper understanding of Mill’s moral theory by appropriating it in the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines. Indeed, this study would be beneficial not only to the philosophy students but to anyone who wants to study philosophy or ethics.
Second, in the field of research, this study would be an additional resource material to anyone who wants to study or already studying alternative medicines or medical cannabis. This study gives us not only the important uses and benefits of medical cannabis but the ethical and legal side of it as well.
Lastly, this study would offer us an idea as to what is good for the majority of the people in the society, especially in the Philippine. This study suggests that the legalization of the medical use of cannabis would bring greatest goodness to the greatest number of people in our society.
Scope and Limitation
As already mentioned, this study is a critical appraisal of House Bill 4477 in the light of John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics. However, this study has its own limitations. It does not aim to study the entire scientifical nature of medical cannabis. It will just tackle on of the important medical uses of cannabis which are beneficial to the majority of the people in the Philippines.
Furthermore, this study engages Mill’s moral theory. As we may all know, Mill wrote several studies on epistemology, economics, religion, ethics, political philosophy, logic, and metaphysics. In fact, some of his famous works are Principles of Political Economy, On Liberty, The Subject of Women, A system of Logic, Three Essays on Religion, Utilitarianism, and his Autobiography. However, this study does not engage the whole philosophy of Mill as they are irrelevant in this study. Thus, I will only focus on Mill’s utilitarianism, as to how it justifies the legalization of medical use of cannabis in the Philippines.
This study uses three methods in order to achieve its goal which is to critically appraise House Bill 4477 in the light of Mill’s utilitarianism. In Chapter II, this study will use hermeneutic and descriptive methods in presenting briefly the historical background of medical cannabis and its important uses and benefits. The same method will be used in presenting Mill’s moral theory in Chapter III. Lastly, this study will use critical-analytic method in my appraisal of House Bill 4477 in the light of Mill’s utilitarian ethics in my attempt to promote the legalization of medical cannabis in the Philippines.
Organization of the Study
This proposed research project is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 will present the rationale of the study, theoretical background, statement of the problem, scope and limitation, methodology, organization of the study, and definition of terms.
Chapter 2 will present the medical use of cannabis. The first part of the chapter will present a brief historical background of the medical cannabis. The second part will discuss the important uses and benefits of the medical cannabis. The third part will discuss the House Bill 4477.
Chapter 3 will present John Stuart Mill’s moral theory. In the first part of this chapter, I will present the life and works of Mill. In the second part, I will discuss Mill’s utilitarian ethics.
Chapter 4 will discuss the appropriation of Mill’s moral theory in promoting the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines. It will critically evaluate House Bill 4477 using Mill’s utilitarian ethics. It will then present the relevance of Mill’s utilitarianism in my attempt to legalize the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines.
Chapter 5 will present the summary, conclusion, and recommendations of the study. This chapter will highlight the need of the legalization of the medical use of cannabis in the Philippines.
For some helpful guides in writing philosophical research, see Jeffry Ocay, “Handout in Philosophical Research,” http://philonotes.com/index.php/2017/11/24/handouts-in-philosophical-research/
 In House Bill 4477, Section 3, Cannabis is defined as a name referring to the different kinds, classes, and characteristics of marijuana.
Lester Grinspoon, MD., “History of Cannabis as a Medicine”, http://www.maps.org/mmj/grinspoon_history_cannabis_medicine.pdf. (16 August 2005), 1.
 Robin Wilkey, “Marijuana and Cancer: Scientists Find Cannabis Compound Stops Metstasis in Aggressive Cancer”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/marijuana-and-cancer_n_1898208.html (updated 21 September 2012). See also Matt Ferner, “FDA Moves Forward With Marijuana Based Drug to Fight Childhood Epilepsy”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/07/medical-marijuana-fda_n_4906832.html (upadated 07 March 2014).
 Jennifer Steshyn, “An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Legal and Ethical Issues Regarding Medical Marijuana in the State of Florida”, (29 October 2010). 3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 4.
 Ibid, 5.
 Ibid, 15-16.
 Marinol is a brand name of Dronabinol. Dronabinol is a synthetic medicine composed of synthetic THC and other synthetic components to decrease nausea and increase appetite. However, some patients experience dizziness, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, euphoria, somnolence and abnormal thinking, after taking Dronabinol. There are some patients who even felt that they are overly drug due to Dronabinol. (http://www.drugs.com/marinol.html).
 Lester Grinspoon M.D., “A Novel Approach to the Symptomatic Treatment of Autism”, http://rxmarijuana.com/novel_approach.htm (Spring 2010).
Dr. Joseph Mercola, “The Benefits of Medical Cannabis,” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/03/09/medical-cannabis.aspx, (09 March 2014).
 Jonathan Shelley, “Critique on Mill Utilitarianism,” https://www.academia.edu/533937/Critique_of_Mill_Utilitarianism, (2001).
 Jonathan Riley, “Mill’s Extraordinary Utilitarian Moral Theory,” http://ppe.sagepub.com/content/9/1/67.abstract, (February 2010).
 Sandra LaFave, “Utilitarianism,” http://drsivalaw.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/utilitarianism-article-by-sandra-lafave/, (24 February 2010).
 Colin Heydt, “John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)” http://www.iep.utm.edu/milljs/.