NZ Herald does no research, helps spread false hope (again)

By Siouxsie Wiles 02/03/2012

Parents must raise $375,000 to take Jesse to US for radical treatment

Thanks to ‘Trouble‘ for pointing out Matthew Theunissen’s article ‘Hope for toddler with rare tumour’ in today’s NZ Herald. Surprise, surprise, it’s about that bastion of radical cancer therapy, the Burzynski clinic. Here is my letter to the editor. Feel free to add your own! Thanks also to Orac for links and inspiration.

I was very disappointed to read Matthew Theunissen’s article ‘Hope for toddler with rare tumour’ (March 2, 2012) about the Bessant family who are trying to raise $375,000 to take their son to the USA for a ‘radical’ cancer treatment. The article contained a major inaccuracy; the antineoplaston therapy offered by the Burzynski Clinic is not a new cancer therapy. In fact, Dr. Burzynski has been ‘trialling’ his antineoplastons (which he now actually combines with chemotherapy in a pretence of ‘personalised medicine’) for over thirty years and has never produced strong evidence that his approach actually cures patients or increases their chances of long-term survival.

There are two important things that the Bessant family and their supporters need to know before putting their faith (and a huge amount of money) in Dr. Burzynski. The first is that patients do not pay huge sums of money to receive treatment on legitimate clinical trials. In contrast, they are often reimbursed for their time or out of pocket expenses. The second is that the Texas Medical Board will soon be convening hearings to examine a number of charges against Dr. Burzynski*, including failure to meet standard of care, negligence, lack of informed consent, unprofessional conduct and nontherapeutic prescribing.

For decades now Dr. Burzynski has been accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from desperate people who he has hoodwinked into believing he is their last hope. Like the parents of Brynlin Sanders who has just died two months after returning home from the Burzynski clinic**. I urge the Blessant’s to do a little more research before putting their faith in someone like Dr. Burzynski.

*Texas Medical Board bulletin with list of charges against Dr. Burzynski

**Brynlin Sanders

0 Responses to “NZ Herald does no research, helps spread false hope (again)”

  • Desperation and credulity have long been the frauds best friends. But of course if you point out the flaws in the Burzynski claims and caution against throwing money away on false treatment then you’re just being “unkind” and removing the families hope. If you don’t then you are callously allowing a family to be duped…

  • The only thing desperate and cruel are you lunatics writing this post and writing this newspaper. I hope you all die a chemo induced death one day.

  • Well said, Siouxsie. The case is very sad but people donating money to send him off to a charlatan won’t do any good.

  • @Whatever, Thanks for revealing your hopes. You no doubt feel better for it. If you don’t then perhaps a reflection on the value of thought before opinion may serve you better. I hope when you die it is in a peaceful, pleasant manner after a long life of familial bliss.

  • Rob Edward, I think that the Government should ban any fundraising to pay for dodgy medical treatments offered by the likes of Burzynski’s clinic? If the Govt passes such law , it means that it is protecting gullible members of the society as the Bessant family. It is for the greater good of the public exactly as if the Govt raises tax on certain food items that can cause obesity?

  • Mr Fisi. I do not agree. Firstly gullibility and desperation are not, to my mind, the same thing. Anyone can end up in a desperate situation and make choices that they would otherwise attend to with a more skeptical eye. I would put gullibility more in the sphere of the lazily credulous, I’m thinking the likes of power band… Do you really want me to address the straw man you offer with the rest of your comment?

  • Here’s my email to Matthew. I didn’t publish it on my own blog as it is so similar to several others I have sent to UK newspapers.

    “I am a science and health blogger who has written extensively on the Burzynski Clinic and the controversy surrounding it.

    After reading your article about Jesse Bessant, I wish to voice my concerns.

    I realise that the article was written in support of Jesse’s family and their fundraising campaign and some bias was therefore to be expected. I also understand that they are in a very difficult and vulnerable position and don’t wish to judge their decisions. However, the issues with the Burzynski Clinic are so serious that I believe it was misleading and potentially harmful to readers to present the clinic in such a favourable light.

    Dr Burzynski’s ‘clinical trials’ (which cost patients hundreds of thousands of dollars), have been ongoing for over thirty years without any publication of reliable evidence that the ‘antineoplastons’ treatment works. Although he doesn’t market them as such, antineoplastons are effectively by-products of the metabolism of a known drug (sodium phenylbutyrate). Dr Burzynski also prescribes other drugs unconventionally and expensively, has been found guilty of fraud, accuses the authorities and critics of acting illegally in order to suppress him and may soon have his medical licence revoked following imminent proceedings involving the Texas Medical Board.

    It has also been reported that Dr Burzynski and his companies are being sued by a former patient, Lola Quinlan who seeks damages for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, deceptive trade and conspiracy. She says the defendants failed to disclose that her treatment was part of a clinical trial and charged her $500 per pill for drugs she could buy elsewhere for a fraction of that price.

    I believe it was irresponsible of the New Zealand Herald to effectively promote such a clinic. I think the newspaper ought to set the record straight by publishing a balanced follow-up article, or at least by printing my email.

    I look forward to hearing from you.”

  • So, in that case Rob, gullible members of the public who buy various alternative medicines from pharmacies which stock them shouldn’t be protected from their bad choices by law, simply by outlawing pharmacies from selling alternative medicines? I thought that advocates of statism such as yourself would favor Govt interference, since you said on a recent thread about nanny state, that the one of Govt’s responsibly is to combat obesity , therefore raising taxes on bad food is simply just? Am I right? Is it Govt’s responsibility to protect naive & gullible people from making bad choices (such as alternative medical treatments)? After all, obese people make bad choices about the food they eat? So, I’m surprised that you don’t advocate for a outright Govt ban of fundraising to pay for dodgy alternative medical treatments.

    PS: I hate seeing alternative medicines being sold & made available in pharmacies, however I even hate more to see Govt banning it. Let free people choose what they want, even if they make bad choices.

  • I fully support scientists as Siouxsie Wiles, Michael Edmonds and others writing to Herald and other print media outlets to correct or put a balance to the spin and misleading articles written by their so called (uninformed) journalists. I have written to the Herald once and that was about 5 or 6 years ago regarding TV3’s show Dare To Believe by Taranaki psychic Jeanette Wilson because she was claiming to heal all sorts of diseases including terminal cancer, but the Herald didn’t print my article.

    I think that those of us who have scientific backgrounds can educate the public by writing to the print news media, posting articles online (such as SciBlogs) or get involved in public debates, etc,…, but I clearly draw the line of not going further to advocate that the public should be legislated away of their freedom to make bad choices. Going down this way, we’re on a slippery road.

  • FF,

    (Now crossed over your latest comment; I’ve haven’t updated this.)

    You probably know that I have several times written that pharmacies should not sell homeopathic remedies, including quite recently, and feel similarly about them selling other insubstantial remedies.

    Your argument, however, doesn’t seem to recognise two different things: banning a product (i.e. outright) and banning them from pharmacies.

    Other stores, separate from the pharmacy industry, can carry on selling them.

    Your argument also appears to be missing a key conflict – what a service claims to offer to what they in fact do.

    Pharmacies are crossing a line when they sell remedies that they (ought to) know have no effect. If they offer them for sale, what they represent and what they do are then at conflict.

    It’s same as my calling out IAS for claiming to represent ‘informed choice’ (part of their slogan) when their actions are otherwise.

    It is inconsistent for pharmacies to both claim to be health professionals and sell these products.

  • […] On the woo side, we had a week of nonsense when our most widely read newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, ran a series on “alternative relaxation and therapies” (which included leeches!). A few of us got our knickers in a twist (see here, here or here for just a few examples). We also had one of our most eminent scientists, the physicist Sir Paul Callaghan, report back on his experiment with high dose vitamin C to cure his terminal colon cancer (it did didly squat), while a church is being taken to the Advertising Standards Authority over putting up a billboard proclaiming “Jesus heals cancer”. And just a few days ago, an empassioned plea went out (again courtesy of the NZ Herald) by the Blessant family who are trying to raise almost £200,000 to send their son to the Burzynski clinic. Cue more letters to the editor…. […]

  • hey guys,
    so much emotion with little actual knowledge or real awareness of that of which you speak can do no more than confuse or create ill will. i suggest that you take a little of your time and watch the recently released movie on the bursynski clinic so that you can learn all about his methods and how he has been attacked relentlessly by the FDA because he threatens them with an actual cure which will affect the incredibly wealthy monopolistic pharmaceutical companies that actually do rob us of our chance of a cure. i am currently being treated for non hodgkins lymphoma with some really nasty chemicals which don’t promise a lot and certainly not a cure. i am currently trying to work out a way that i could perhaps become one of Dr. Bursynski’s very fortunate patients. i am heartbroken by the loss of young lives as are we all but please look at the statistics before you condemn so that you don’t taint the thoughts and aspirations of people needing real help,
    cheers, tonda

  • To Tonda

    My mother died of cancer in the early nineties, but it was chemotherapy that destroyed her,,,,, I too have just seen the Bursynski movie….god help us all, the man is a genius and yet the hundreds of millions spent trying to discredit him is disgraceful and hellish. Let the people have hope always….and do your research wisely, people are so frustrating when they are sooooo brainwashed that they are not even willing to investigate for themselves, they are not the ones who could have saved my mum, i wish i was old enough to have fought for her.
    should we really trust the pharmaceutical companies?
    or the USA Government?