You may be aware of The Cambridge Institute of Complementary Health.
They were the organisers of this conference which attracted a lot of what was by their own admission adverse publicity. This was caused by the proposed attendance of a certain Stanislaw Burzynski and also due to them promoting the ‘conference’ in a manner that sailed dangerously close to the wind with regards to the Cancer Act 1939.
After a short while licking their wounds it seems that rather than accept that errors were made Madeline Hickey-Smith has decided that its the legislation that is actually at fault. In this article she calls for what she terms ‘reform’ of the Cancer Act. In reality these amount to a group of weak arguments which are really calls for a relaxation of what she perceives as government censorship of information on alternative cancer treatments.
Crikey. That’s a big accusation. I think the article is extremely misguided and it raises issues that the author is either totally ignorant about or doesn’t possess meaningful answers for. The first part of the article describes the Act itself, what it is, and what it prohibits. It isn’t long however before the first conspiracy theory rears its ugly head:
“That pretty much wraps it up, and wraps us (in Britain) up in the legal stranglehold that this outdated Act still exerts….Was this enacted to protect the citizens from charlatans and “quacks” or to safeguard the interests of the National Radium Trust, to whom the British Government lent money?…”
Now you could argue that the act is outdated, but I’m really not sure if the second part is supposed to be a serious accusation or not. For the sake of argument lets say it is. The suggestion is that Cancer Act 1939 was enacted by the as-then Government only to protect their financial interests in the National Radium Trust (1924-1948), an organisation intended to collect funding from the general public and use it for supplying radium and other radiotherapeutic devices to treat sick people in Great Britain. I think we are supposed to view this as the ‘cancer industry’. Or something.
Now I don’t know if this legislation was really enacted for nefarious reasons, because no evidence is provided to support this accusation. But what I do know is this: there were probably frauds and quacks in 1939 who were willing to advertise fake or unproven cancer cures direct to the public, and there still are now. There was also probably a need for legal powers to curtail this and to prevent the exploitation of terminally ill people. This is still a need today.
We are then treated to a picture of a distopian society which bears no resemblance to reality:
“If no one is allowed to tell us, how can we, the general public, ever find out what alternatives there are to those offered by mainstream medicine, mainly surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy?”
In the age of modern communication which has effectively no country boundaries its a pretty strange assertion that people cannot access information on which alternative cancer treatments are available. I just googled “alternative cancer treatment UK” and apart from not having my door kicked in by agents, I got back 4 million hits. In about 5 minutes I became aware of ‘Gerson’, ‘High Dose Vit-C’, and range of organisations providing advice. She is wrong – the message about alternative cancer treatments is more visible than ever and there is little need to augment by doing it in person.
Throughout the piece it is asserted that those looking into alternative treatments are ‘truth seekers’ and that there is a need to provide this
truth information directly to the general public for the greater good. However we are not treated to a definition of what the truth is, how we might determine it and just who should do this. Bearing in mind the The Cambridge Institute of Complementary Health were happy for someone who had only anecdotal evidence – Burzynski – to potentially talk to an audience of vulnerable cancer sufferers or their worried family members, and they think youtube vidoes are evidence – its shows just how low the bar for truth can be set.
She goes on to justify this direct approach to members’ of the public in another way by saying that:
“Conventional healthcare professionals are too often ignorant of the enormous value of unconventional treatments.”
This of course ignores the fact that the very best way to convince conventional practitioners and therefore the public is for these practitioners to provide robust peer reviewed evidence of efficacy. That is how ‘alternative’ can become ‘mainstream’, especially if as she argues, these are cheaper and more effective than established treatments. They talk the talk, but do they walk the walk Madeline? Until they do so robustly promoting them is morally wrong.
The final statement displays such a lack of understanding thats its quite frightening:
“The tenacious grip that it holds on treating cancer must be relinquished, so that patients and their healthcare providers can make an informed choice as to what approach may be best for their individual needs.”
As I have pointed out, people already have access to a wide variety of information about which alternative therapies they could use for cancer treatment. What they don’t always have easy access to – and this is something that the ill fated CIChealth conference also wouldn’t have provided – is robust impartial evidence which would enable them to understand the risks versus the benefits of pursuing alternative treatments – and the crucial question of whether they actually work. Except here.
Conferences, sound bites, websites and anecdotes straight from the mouths of controvertial healers themselves cannot give people what they need for a true informed choice. Relaxing the Cancer Act cannot improve that situation. The Cancer Act 1939 is old and seemingly poorly enforced. But none of the arguments above will convince me that there isn’t a need to stop the well meaning but ill educated or the downright fraudulent from misleading or exploiting those facing desperate times.