Chilling and Sad
Radley Balko, who I tend to agree with, has posted what he considers a chilling story. Here is the story in a nutshell, a young man, 16 years old, has Hodgkin’s disease and is undergoing a junk science treatment at a clinic in Mexico. The child welfare agency intervened and got a judge to force the kid to undergo chemotherapy (i.e. the non-quack therapy).
Of course, it is tragic when somebody wants to do something like take an herbal tonic, eat only organic food and no sugar thinking it will somehow cure the Hodgkin’s disease. The reality is that such a treatment will almost surely kill this kid. But, at the same time I think one should be allowed to make these decisions.
Where I do disagree with Balko is in this paragraph,
But this one seems pretty clear-cut. This kid, his parents, and several doctors think another round of chemo could well kill him. But because the state’s doctors think otherwise, they’ve made him a ward of the state. Really, really troubling.
What doctors? No doctor was mentioned in the story asserting that the kid could die of chemotherapy. Was it somebody at this quack clinic in Mexico? Probably. So far in all the news accounts on this I’ve read the clinic in Mexico is un-named, probably at the request of the clinic. This isn’t unsurprising as quacks who push these kinds of nonsense cures often locate in Mexico as a way of avoiding oversight by agencies like the FDA.
Orac reports on a similar case where a young girl with Hodgkin’s disease is going to undergo “vitamin C therapy”.
This news report indicates that Hodgkin’s disease is “very treatable”.
Hodgkin’s disease is considered very treatable through conventional means and has a five-year survival rate of at least 80 percent, according to the Lymphoma Information Network.
The treatment that Cherrix was undergoing is called the Hoxsey treatment and doesn’t appear to do much good.
In 1957, a committee of faculty members of the University of British Columbia conducted a review of the Hoxsey treatment and facilities (582). After visiting Hoxsey’s Dallas clinic, the committee described the overall treatment regimen, along with various other aspects of the treatment (the history of the treatment, Hoxsey’s claims for efficacy, and the history of Hoxsey’s litigation concerning the treatment). They were particularly interested in following up on patients from British Columbia who were treated at the clinic. The clinic gave the committee members records for 78 patients from their “active” files (unbeknownst to the clinic, however, some of these patients had died). The committee was able to follow up on 71 of these patients, using British Columbia’s cancer registry, death registry, and physician records. Their detailed findings were summarized as follows:
For over one-half of the [cancer] patients from British Columbia, the result [of treatment with the Hoxsey method] has been either death or progression of the disease. In nearly one-quarter there was no proof that the patient ever had cancer. Nearly one in ten of the patients had curative treatment before going to the Hoxsey Clinic. In only one case, an external cancer, was there any evidence at all that the Hoxsey treatment had an effect on the disease; in that case, better results could have been obtained by orthodox means (582).
The latter case to which they refer reportedly involved a woman with a “slow-growing cancer of the ear” who refused surgery and was treated with one of Hoxsey’s external treatments. The committee reported that the treatment “did, in fact, remove the cancerous growth, along with a good deal of normal tissue.” It did so “with needless pain and disfigurement,” given that it could have been treated with radiation or surgery, in the committee’s opinion (582). They also reported that of the 32 patients who died, “two-thirds were dead in less than six months, 90 per cent were dead within a year, and none survived two years” (582).–emphasis added
And here is the American Cancer Society’s page on the Hoxsey treatment. What is truly ironic is this part about complications of the Hoxsey treatement,
Some of the ingredients in the internal formula, such as buckthorn, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, and trembling. Cascara can also cause diarrhea. Pokeweed is a poisonous plant that can also cause undesirable side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and heart block, and has caused deaths in children. Red clover may increase the risk of bleeding for people who take anticoagulants (blood thinners). It also has estrogen-like activity, which means it should be avoided by women with estrogen-positive breast tumors.
Cherrix does not want to undergo chemotherapy because it made him feel ill, so he’ll take an herbal tonic that will make him feel ill.
So this story is not only chilling it is also sad. The idea that the government can force treatments on people who do not want them (and do not have dangerous and communicable diseases) is disturbing. If the government can determine that something is good for an individual and compell that individual to engage in that activity even against their will, what is the point of having freedom? But if we let people have the freedom to make choices then some will undoubtedly be drawn into these snake-oil cures and end up dying.
Update: In comments Steve Plunk points out the age of the study quoted above about the Hoxsey treatment and notes that it is out of date, and hence something more recent could show the treatement is more efficacious. The only problem is that to the best of my knowledge there is nothing more recent and the most likely reason for this is that Hoxsey and his nurse/successor have not provided that data to make a more recent study possible. So while Plunk might be right, we’ll never know because either the kind of data necessary is not retained by the clinic or they are not making it available.