Icon’s big push for marijuana legalisation
HUMAN rights icon Frances Rix Ames was a South African neurologist and psychiatrist.
In 1999, Nelson Mandela awarded Ames with an Order of the Star of South Africa, the country’s highest civilian award at the time, in recognition of her work on behalf of human rights.
Best known for leading the medical ethics inquiry into the death of antiapartheid activist Steve Biko, she was also a tireless advocate of the legalisation of cannabis for medical use and further research.
When the South African Medical and Dental Council (SAMDC) declined to discipline the chief district surgeon and his assistant who treated Biko, Ames and a group of five academics and physicians raised funds and fought an eight-year legal battle against the medical establishment.
Ames risked her personal safety and academic career in her pursuit of justice, taking the dispute to the South African Supreme Court, where she eventually won the case in 1985.
Born in Pretoria and raised in poverty in Cape Town, Ames became the first woman to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Cape Town in 1964.
Ames studied the effects of cannabis on the brain and published several articles on the subject, many available online.
Seeing the therapeutic benefits of cannabis on patients in her own hospital, she became an early proponent of legalisation for medicinal use.
She headed the neurology department at Groote Schuur Hospital before retiring in 1985.
After apartheid was finally dismantled in 1994, Ames testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about her work on the “Biko doctors” medical ethics inquiry.
The information in the adjacent article is culled from her research. — Alison Stent