Judith Hogentogler Quattlebaum died of cancer Sept. 9 in the same Chevy Chase family home where her grandmother died. She was spared the suffering her grandmother experienced, though, thanks in part to her efforts as founder and director of the National Committee on the Treatment of Intractable Pain. She was 69.
As a child, she witnessed the slow, agonizing death of her grandmother, Martha Piatt Worthington, who had cancer. Years later, she wrote about that experience in a 1977 article in the Washington Star: "Even now, I hear her call, before each hypodermic -- 'OH GOD, LET ME DIE! DEAR GOD!' while we selfishly kept her alive -- too cowardly perhaps to face life without her, in spite of her awful suffering. Her shrill plea still sends a shiver of guilt and sorrow."
Mrs. Quattlebaum founded her organization in 1974 in memory of her grandmother. She believed that American physicians should have the right to use heroin, prohibited since 1956, to ease the agonizing pain that often accompanies terminal cancer.
"It is time we Americans gave up our excessive fear of heroin, and again, greeted it with gratitude and relief -- for the God-given blessing of mercy it primarily is," she wrote in the Star article. "Pain is useful in pointing to disease. Terminal cancer pain is meaningless. Its legitimate use, when death is close, outweighs its total prohibition on grounds of abuse in any thoughtful ethical formulation. Addiction holds no meaning for the dying, and it is an entirely separate issue."
Working out of her home, she tirelessly lobbied Congress, noting that Britain had been using heroin as an analgesic for years. "When doctors have a choice," she told Time magazine in 1984, "both patients and doctors prefer heroin."
Within a few years, her organization had 6,000 members. Lawmakers as diverse as Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California supported her effort. The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Reagan administration opposed it.
Columnist William F. Buckley wrote in 1978 that her crusade was "up against the conventional unbudgability of the law which, with that magisterial irrelevance of which it is so regularly capable, in effect authorizes the use of heroin only for teenagers in ghettoes who have relatively little trouble acquiring it -- while their grandmothers die in pain under the hygienic auspices of the law."
Although legislation authorizing the use of heroin never passed, Mrs. Quattlebaum's efforts helped encourage the growth of the hospice movement in the United States and the now-standard practice of pain management. When she disbanded the intractable pain organization in 1989, Buckley wrote: "It has been a very long fight, and Judith Quattlebaum of Washington has led it unflaggingly."
Mrs. Quattlebaum was born in the District and graduated from Stone Ridge Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in 1952. She also took courses at Strayers Business College and in liberal studies at Georgetown University.
After high school, she lived in New York City for several years, where she modeled for the Frances Gill Agency, occasionally appearing in Vogue. She moved back to the Washington area in the late 1950s and married James Quattlebaum, a psychiatrist, in 1962. From 1961 to 1975, she worked for Republican Rep. William E. Minshall Jr. of Ohio.
Mrs. Quattlebaum's marriage ended in divorce.
Survivors include her mother, Arabella R. Hogentogler of Chevy Chase; and three sisters, Suzanne H. Graham of Rockville, Martha H. Nolan of Gibson Island and Marie R. Gerdes of Stafford.