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As an MP with epilepsy, I welcomed Sajid Javid's announcement today

July 2, 2018 4:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Six medics in discussion.

There have been times this past week when the emotional arguments surrounding the medicinal cannabis debate have threatened to overwhelm me.

It's an issue that's affected me not just as a politician, but on a deeply personal level too.

It seemed utterly unbelievable that it took a young boy's life potentially being endangered before the Conservative government accepted the evidence that many have been pointing to for years.

Medicinal cannabis has the potential to alleviate the suffering of thousands of children in this country.

Children like my constituent Murray Gray, whose rare myoclonic astatic epilepsy can put him through multiple seizures a day, have their schooling interrupted, their health affected and their families constantly worried for their safety.

Over the past few months, I've got to know his mother Karen. I've supported her campaign and admired her strength as she petitioned the UK government for a change in the law, as she protested outside the Scottish parliament and continually spoke out in the media about the difference that medicinal cannabis could make.

So it was for Karen, for Alfie Dingley's parents and for the family of Billy Caldwell that I felt an enormous sense of relief when the home secretary Sajid Javid announced he had listened to public pressure and would review the classification of cannabis.

But, as I mentioned, for me there is also a deeper and more personal resonance.

As I got to my feet in the Commons to welcome the announcement, a memory I have tried to bury for years rushed to the front of my mind.

It is a memory of coming to on a flight home from the Canary Islands. I was wearing an oxygen mask and was vaguely aware of my husband trying to reassure not only me, but the flight crew and the friends who were with us.

My then five-year-old daughter had been taken to the flight deck so she didn't see what was happening, and I learned later that the crew had discussed diverting the flight to mainland Spain.

I had simply fallen asleep and had a seizure. It was something that has only ever happened in my sleep. It hadn't happened at that point for 15 years and it hasn't happened again since. But since my early 20s, I have lived with the fear that it might.

The first time it happened I was 25, about to get married and keen to start a family.

The doctors could not then, and cannot even now, offer an explanation as to what caused me to have a major grand mal seizure in my sleep.

For many years, I was afraid to sleep alone if my husband was away in case I had attack and there was nobody there to look after me.

If I woke up in the middle of the night, I would panic about why.

But I learned to live it.

Only once did I cry and it was nothing to do with me. When an infection suddenly drove my infant daughter's temperature above safe limits and she suffered a febrile convulsion in accident and emergency, I lost it.

I suddenly felt the fear that my husband must have on that holiday flight and my mother would have lived with.

I knew, perhaps better than most, that one seizure can leave you damaged. It can kill you.

Fortunately, my daughter was fine and never suffered any recurrence.

But as I have campaigned for Murray Gray, and children like him, to have access to medicinal cannabis I have reminded myself daily, that as parents, this could be any one of us. It is something the home secretary himself alluded to in the chamber.

I have witnessed the pain and admired the courage of Karen Gray, the Dingleys and the Caldwells.

There can surely be nothing as all-consuming as the fear that lines your stomach like lead when your child is suffering.

All of us who have witnessed that pain and courage, or simply heard the stories of these families this week, should welcome the government's actions.

But we must also ensure that those who have blocked progress in the past are not allowed to somehow steal this hope from the many thousands who stand to gain.