Rep. Charles B. Rangel wants an answer to "What Good Would Legalizing Heroin Do?" {Free for All, July 4} in his rejection of James J. Kilpatrick's call to "Legalize Heroin for Patients in Pain" {op-ed, June 14}.

The answer is very simple: to alleviate excruciating pain in those dying cancer patients whose pain is not relieved by other medications.

Although it is true "that existing medications, when properly administered, are adequate to relieve pain in the vast majority of cases" (which acknowledges a significant minority whose pain is not relieved by "existing" medications), it is not true "that heroin will not improve our ability to control cancer pain."

This issue is basically a moral one. As long as there is only one dying cancer patient who has intractable pain that can only be relieved bya specific medication (in this case, heroin), then that medication mustbe made available to that patientupon his/her informed request -- at least in any society that claims to be civilized.

-- James W. Prescott

Anyone who thinks available drugs will always control cancer pain simply cannot have seen cancer pain. I have. My only son died of cancer.

He was 26 years old, athletic and strong, when the cancer lodged in his ankle. During two years it ate away the bone until the ankle would have broken had he merely stood on it. Meanwhile, the cancer multiplied in his intestines. Does Rangel truly believe the available painkillers worked? Most assuredly they did not.

Dilaudid is not the total solution it is cracked up to be. It does not work for some patients. It made my son miserably sicker, so that he could not use it at all.

Nor is Dilaudid a drug that will be safe from illicit use and the danger of hospital robberies, as Rangel's letter implies. When we picked up my son's Dilaudid prescription, the pharmacist warned us to carry it secretly: "You might get mugged. This stuff goes for $50 a pill on the street."

It seems ludicrous to claim that the small amount of heroin needed to help terminal cancer patients would significantly increase the rivers of heroin now running in our streets.

My son's wonderful hospice nurse confided that she wished she could give heroin to some patients. Her reason was that you never know which medicine is going to work ona particular patient and there should be as wide a range of choices as possible.

I hope Congress will have the compassion to give cancer patients that choice. -- Ellen W. Eager