Indonesian man grows marijuana to treat wife’s rare disease, gets caught, wife dies 32 days later

Illustration. Image: Wendy McCormick /
Illustration. Image: Wendy McCormick /

It’s incredibly sad to think that one woman’s life could have been saved and her family’s sorrow spared had they simply lived in a country progressive enough to recognize the legitimate medical uses of a particular plant.

On Saturday, March 25, Fidelis Arie Sudewarto, a resident of Sanggau, West Kalimantan, lost his beloved wife, Yeni Riawati, 32 days after he was detained for growing marijuana, which is illegal under Indonesia’s strict drug laws.

Fidelis did not grow marijuana for recreational use or profit. His wife Yeni was suffering from an extremely rare disease called syringomyelia, in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. If the cyst expands, it can destroy the spinal cord, causing indescribable pain, paralysis, and other severe health complications, possibly resulting in death.

After exhausting many options, Fidelis came across information online that said cannabis could be used as an analgesic to alleviate syringomyelia sufferers’ pain. He then decided to grow marijuana plants, which he processed himself and gave to his wife for her treatment at home.

“After trying [the marijuana] there was an apparent healing effect. At first she (Yeni) did not want to sleep for days, but after drinking the [marijuana] extract she began sleeping soundly. At first she did not want to eat, but afterwards her appetite increased. She also began to speak again and was able to defecate with ease,” said Yohana, Fidelis’ sister, as quoted by Tribun.

According to Yohana, Fidelis hoped that Yeni could make some recovery with the help of the extract so that he could take her to get an an operation on the island of Java – a trip which their doctor advised against due to Yeni’s pre-cannabis condition.

But on February 19, the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) caught wind of Fidelis’ activity and arrested him in his home. There, they also confiscated 39 marijuana plants he had been growing for his wife.

Following Fidelis’ arrest and detention, Yeni stopped taking her cannabis treatment and her condition worsened.

Sadly, she eventually succumbed to her disease and passed away, 32 days after Fidelis’ arrest.

Right now, Fidelis is in BNN custody and, if convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison under existing drug laws. That said, BNN Chief Budi Waseso (he of crocodile prison fame) said the death penalty should be considered for Fidelis’ case because he was a civil servant, dismissing the man’s desperate attempts to save his wife as irrelevant to the crime.

But not all politicians are that heartless. Fidelis has at least received backing from Sanggau Regency Council Chairman Jumadi, who urged prosecutors and judges to take Fidelis’ selfless reason for growing the illegal substance into consideration, especially since a drug test proved that he did not use it himself.

“They (Fidelis and Yeni) have two little kids, and now he has to take care of them on his own,” Jumadi said, as quoted by Tribun.

We certainly hope Fidelis can be pardoned of all charges, for the sake of his family at least. At the same time, Yeni’s death will hopefully at serve as a symbol for why Indonesia should reconsider its scientifically unfounded stigmatization of marijuana and take cues from other progressive states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes after it has been proven to be one of the only effective remedies to certain diseases and conditions such as severe childhood seizures.

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