Partick Swayze: Whats the Harm?

by endlesspsych

Firstly I would like to apologise to anyone who finds it remotely offensive that I am using Patrick Swayzes recent death as a subject for a blog post. The idea of profiting from any death is one that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, even if only for a few hits on a blog, – however my excuse is that I am not the first in this case. Far from it, that dubious honour belongs to Mike Adams, the “Health Ranger” and editor of NaturalNews in this here article.

Quite besides wondering why Mr Adams has bestowed, presumably upon himself, the title of health ranger (whatever that means) the article appears to be nothing more then a thinly veiled advert for sCAM and a rather explicit attack on modern medicine. It opens thus:

Beloved actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday evening after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Having put his faith in conventional chemotherapy, he largely dismissed ideas that nutrition, superfoods or “alternative medicine” might save him, instead betting his life on the chemotherapy approach which seeks to poison the body into a state of remission instead of nourishing it into a state of health.

It further declares:

The list of celebrities killed by western medicine is seemingly endless. And now, sadly, Patrick Swayze joins that ever-growing list of famous, endearing people who paid the ultimate price for their misplaced faith in slash-and-burn medicine and “conventional” chemotherapy treatments.

Citing Bernie Mac, Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger as some examples of such celebrities to have been sacrificed to the altar of modern medicine rather than becoming well by trusting in the medieval methods of sCAMsters… (I’m sure even the most irrational of people can see why at least two of those examples are nonsensical… I mean if someone choose to overdose on a homeopathic remedy (in the only way possible) they could concievably drown – but that would be the individuals fault and not the remedies…)

Could Patrick Swayze have saved his own life with natural medicine? Absolutely. Without question. Even late-stage pancreatic cancer can be reversed (yes, reversed) with full-on naturopathic treatments involving Chinese herbal medicine, deep body detoxification that includes sweat saunas and colon cleansing, radical changes in diet from “dead” foods to “live” foods, a healthy dose of vitamin D and the daily consumption of raw anti-cancer living juices made from fresh, organic produce like cabbage, broccoli and garlic.

Perhaps someone should tell the researchers, scientists and yes the biomedical and pharmaceutical companies that their toil is in vain and that the way to cure or reverse cancer has already been discovered! I’d forward them the information myself, which I am sure they would love to see, if any evidence was forthcoming but the above paragraph appears to be it…

Now I’m not enamoured of the evils of big pharma, it is an industry that spends more on marketing then it does on researching new drugs an approach which has led to a deluge of “me too” drugs and bizarre medicalisations of normal human behaviours  and the invention of new disorders. This Science daily article details the disparity in big pharma’s budgets:

A new study by two York University researchers estimates the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development, contrary to the industry’s claim… …the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent 24.4% of the sales dollar on promotion, versus 13.4% for research and development, as a percentage of US domestic sales of US$235.4 billion.

I’m sure anyone, outside of marketing consultancies anyway, would recognise those stats to be worrying to say the least. This excellent blog on Ben Goldacres badscience also highlights some of the issues that lead people to think ill of big pharma.

How do patents affect science? This week in India, US drug company Gilead lost their appeal to stop local companies making cheap copies of their Aids drug Tenofovir. They are not alone: in 2007 Novartis lost a lengthy case trying to force the Indian government into strengthening their weak patent laws.

Thats essentially putting profits before lives – a truly galling situation to behold. But I would contend not nessecarily a situation that the big sCAM industry sidesteps. …

The market potential for alternative medicines is high as is evident from the revenues generated in different parts of the world. In Western Europe the annual revenues for the period 2003-04 was to the tune of US$ 5 billion. The Chinese market registered annual sales US$ 14 billion in 2005. In Brazil revenue from use of herbal medicines touched US$ 160 million in 2007.

The website that quote is taken from also offers more UK-centric stats:

Data from surveys conducted in 2000 suggest that there were about 50,000  complementary and alternative medicine practitioners in the UK. Even though operating in a regulatory environment that is considered somewhat weak, the market for alternative and complementary medicine continues to expand. More recent market data suggests that the UK population spends about $192 million annually, and that within the next four years this figure will expand to go over $295.54 million.

Now I’m not suggesting that the alternative medicine industry is on a similar scale to the pharmaceutical industry but, no bones about it, it is big business and very far from the cottage industry image the industry (in my opinion) presents to its customers.

So what? Both are big business, doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Well no it doesn’t on its own. However one of these businesses is highly regulated and controlled and has to rely on the scientific method and evidence to prove its treatments and drugs work the other simply has to come up with a convincing “just so” story. For all the evils of big pharma they at least have to prove that their drugs work and balance any potential risks of drug use with the benefits of drug use. I’m sure that big pharma would probably love to not have to do this but thankfully they are compelled to. Would you rather be treated by something that has been shown to work in double blind clinical trials or “shown to work” by a couple of anecdotes cherry picked by the person selling you the treatment?

If you are now thinking so what? Even if these treatments don’t work at least they don’t have side-effects and don’t cause harm…

Well I’m afraid if you think that you’d be wrong on that score as whats the harm? indicates. While it aggravates me that such a site should have to exist and people are ignorant of the logic and principles behind evidence based medicine to such a degree that anecdote must be combatted with anecdote I think it may be worth posting an example from their section on naturopathy: the method by which Mike Adams health ranger appears to believe Swayze could have been saved… (These are extracts the full sorry tale and unfortunately many more can be found on the whats the harm? site.)

Debbie Benson

Debbie Benson died July 15, 1997, at age fifty-five. I had known her for thirty years. Her official diagnosis was breast cancer, but she was really a victim of quackery. Conventional treatment might have saved her, but she rejected the advice of her oncologist and went to “natural healers.”

Debbie was a registered nurse at the Kaiser hospital in Portland, Oregon, but she had a deep distrust of standard medical practice.

During the last weeks of her life, another naturopath gave Debbie a skin preparation that was supposed to draw the tumor out of her. This stuff caused an ugly open sore on her breast. By this time, her liver was failing and she felt awful. The naturopath told Debbie she was feeling bad as a result of this medicine, and to get more sleep. When Debbie became too weak to get out of bed and the imminence of her death was obvious, the naturopath blamed Debbie’s turn for the worse on “giving up.”

Thats a fairly stark tale I’m sure you will agree. No doubt there are many stark tales of when medicine gets it wrong or fails to work. Medicine is not a perfect “cure all” system, human knowledge generally proceedes in fits and spurts rather then in a straight line. But medicine proceeds towards cures along the correct route – the scientific one.

I’ll leave you with Dara O’Briens take on the matter.