Posts Tagged “chemotherapy”

Medicine Man Yellow Plume, Roland W. Reed, 1912 Img172Most families will do everything possible to save the lives of their members. That is, after all, the rational thing to do. That said, not all families are that rational. Some place their metaphysics above everything … including life itself. Occasionally these lunatic nutcases even get help from others in their effort to kill their own members over metaphysics. The Hamilton (ON) Spectator reports a provincial judge just gave this sort of “help” to First Nations families in Canada (WebCite cached article):

Aboriginal children now have the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment in favour of traditional healing.

A “precedent-setting” ruling made that clear Friday in the case of a First Nations girl refusing chemotherapy.

But it has nothing to do with whether aboriginal medicine works.

Instead, it’s about Canada’s constitution protecting aboriginal rights.

Ontario Court Justice Gethin Edward has now expanded those rights to include traditional healing, saying: “There is no question it forms an integral part.”

It’s great to see judges so obsessed with adhering strictly to the letter of the law — as they see it — that they’re willing to make certain that people die, all over Canada, for no valid reason. Why let nasty little things like rationality get in the way of that? </sarcasm>

What makes this even worse than the fact that two little girls are likely to die soon, is the giddiness with which this decision has been embraced:

“This is monumental for our people all across the country,” Six Nations Chief Ava Hill said after the ruling in Brantford.

“This is precedent-setting for us.”

First Nations spectators in the standing-room-only courtroom burst into applause and tears as Edward dismissed an application by McMaster Children’s Hospital to have the girl apprehended by Brant Family and Children’s Services and forced into treatment.

“I feel I’ve transcended something bigger than all of us,” said the girl’s aunt when she phoned the mother to deliver the news.

These people have doomed not just one, but two girls — as well as unknown numbers of future children — to certain death. And they’ve got the audacity to applaud themselves over it. How fucking disgraceful!

Justice Edward errs by viewing the effectiveness of conventional medicine as the “western medical paradigm,” or a mere cultural viewpoint. The truth is, it’s no such thing, and for the Justice to say so is a lie. Science-based medicine is not a paradigm or “viewpoint,” any more than — say — the laws of gravitation are just a “viewpoint”: One doesn’t merely opine or fantasize that an object will fall to the floor if one drops it, one knows it will, because the mechanism of gravity has been worked out and it’s predictable. Similarly, science-based medicine works toward rational conclusions based upon objective evidence. There’s nothing “viewpoint-y” about it. Treatments are evaluated and their effectiveness measured.

Metaphysical medicine, on the other hand, has no objective basis whatsoever. People just conjure shit up and do it, then tell themselves it worked, without understanding physiological mechanisms, and without even caring about effectiveness. They rely on appeals to tradition as well as other fallacies, confuse the placebo effect with actual recovery from a condition, and bellyache and whine about how “Big Pharma” profits from conventional medicine, therefore it must all be a lie (conveniently failing to mention that a lot of alternative-medicine practitioners make a lot of money peddling their bullshit, nonsense, and lies).

Put bluntly, wishing (as I do) that First Nations children all have an opportunity to survive into adulthood, is not an imposition of western cultural values on Canada’s aboriginal peoples. It’s a desire that they live, so long as it’s possible … and nothing more.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Amish Family Goes FishingIn most cases I respect the Amish and many of the other Mennonite communities. Unlike the vast majority of Christians, they’re willing to put into actual practice many of the things Jesus taught, such as simple living, pacifism, etc.

But note, I said “in most cases.” Sometimes the counter-productive (and potentially dangerous) nature of their metaphysics rears its head, and that’s something I can’t respect. An example of this comes in this report from ABC News, about an Amish family that fled the country in order to prevent their leukemic daughter from getting chemotherapy (WebCite cached article):

A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents have left the country to seek alternatives to chemotherapy, according to the family’s attorney.

Sarah Hershberger and her parents oppose chemotherapy, and have been fighting the Akron Children’s Hospital in court after the family stopped Sarah’s treatment. Her parents said the treatments have caused their daughter a great deal of pain, and they’d rather focus on herbal and natural remedies.

Their initial stated objection to chemotherapy is the discomfort it causes:

Sarah had tumors on her neck, chest and kidneys when her parents initially agreed to chemotherapy at Akron Children’s Hospital earlier this year. Her parents said the side effects were terrible, and they wanted to treat Sarah’s leukemia with alternative treatments.

I concede that chemotherapy can have terrible effects … but it also can be a very effective treatment for an illness that, left untreated, is inevitably fatal. Lots of medical treatments, unfortunately, can cause pain and misery, such as setting a broken bone. But I don’t know anyone with a broken bone who wouldn’t want it set. But even after objecting on those grounds, the family’s metaphysical objections emerge:

“We’ve seen how sick it makes her,” Andy Hershberger, Sarah’s father, told ABC News in August. “Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it’s God’s will.”

The family’s religion tells them that the form of Sarah’s treatment doesn’t matter: If their God wants her to get better, she will, and that’s the end of it, for them. They may as well not even give her any of their herbal concoctions, since the whole matter is entirely up to God, who will be doing all the work.

Note, therefore, their disingenuousness: All that crap about the pain caused by chemotherapy is just a smokescreen they’ve thrown up in order to divert people’s attention from this detrimental metaphysics.

I’ll point out that whatever herbal concoctions the Hershbergers give Sarah, may not even be what’s on their labels. And they aren’t without potential side effects. Moreover, reliance on homeopathy vs. conventional medicine can, indeed, be deadly, as another family recently discovered.

Lastly, it doesn’t seem anyone is really doing much to protect Sarah from her family’s for-her-deadly religionism:

Law enforcement officials said at this point there was no formal search for the girl.

Granted, they may just be saying this in order to give the Hershbergers they idea that they’re home free, but until I see evidence of that, there’s no reason for me to assume this must be the case. If in fact authorities are not looking for this family, that’s one helluva way to serve and protect.

Photo credit: louisepalanker, via Flickr.

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Actor Peter Bergman was famous for his commercials in which he said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Say what you want about the commercial, but at least he was honest and up-front. Not so with Suzanne Somers, who recently published a book full of medical advice. Even though she’s no doctor, and hasn’t a minute of medical training, she nevertheless feels free to tell you how to treat cancer. It’s all about “alternative medicine,” you see, because to Ms Somers, “conventional medicine” is “destructive.” The Human Condition blog at Newsweek reports on this book:

The gist of Somers’s argument is that conventional cancer treatments—surgery, radiation, chemotherapy—take a destructive approach and that chemo, in particular, is overused. Long an advocate of alternative therapies, Somers argues that it makes more sense to build up the body to fight cancer than it does to tear it down through radiation and chemicals. She is particularly enamored of nutritional “cures.”

Even though Ms Somers has no medical credentials to speak of, she nevertheless claims to have them:

Of course, Somers has had no formal medical or scientific training, but considers herself an authority—in part because she’s survived breast cancer after choosing not to have chemotherapy, and because she’s a regular on the alternative-medicine circuit. This book, like her others, consists mainly of transcripts of her conversations with various alternative-medicine doctors, as well as lots of details about her own experiences and prevention regimen, which she has spelled out many times before, most notably on Oprah earlier this year. It’s noteworthy that her promotion of the book began by publicly blaming Patrick Swayze’s recent death on chemotherapy, rather than his pancreatic cancer. (She has since apologized to his family.)

How very nice of Ms Somers to take advantage of another person’s death, to promote her book. (Yes, she did apologize … but she knew what she was doing when she did it, and it was every bit as mercenary a decision as I just described it.)

Sprinkled into her anti-medicinal whiney tome is a bit of good advice and sound medical caveats, as Newsweek concedes:

Not all the recommendations Somers makes in the book raise eyebrows. She says eating healthy and exercising, reducing stress, and getting a good night’s sleep may reduce the risk of cancer. That’s true, but it’s not news. She’s right that not every woman with stage I breast cancer needs chemo. Few doctors would argue. In fact, they have the technology to calculate the size of the likely benefit, and agree that sometimes it’s quite small. Most doctors offer it as a choice to women who want to do everything possible to prevent cancer’s return.

But dropping a load of bullshit on people, doesn’t become any less bullshit, because she sprinkled a (metaphorical) cup of sugar over it. It remains predominantly bullshit.

The unconscionable part of this is that Newsweek had, earlier this year, exposed Somers’ questionable medicine in the course of its exposé of Oprah Winfrey’s pseudoscience promotion (as I blogged in June). Given this revelation, Somers has no viable excuse for having chosen to proceed with publishing a book full of assorted pseudomedicine and potentially-harmful medical instruction.

This whole episode just goes to show that Americans are a strange — and overly credulous — bunch. All someone has to do is become an actor or actress on a famous show, and people attribute all sorts of expertise to that person, which they do not actually possess. Ms Somers is irresponsible to assume the mantle of “physician” merely because she’s a celebrity and had cancer. Lots of celebrities have, unfortunately, had cancer … but few, if any, are credentialed to actually practice medicine or offer medical advice; and most are responsible enough not to “play doctor” by writing books on “medicine.” It’s time we realized that the cult of celebrity-worship — coupled with a vast lack of critical-thinking skills — that has consumed the US, is becoming dangerous.

Update: CNN has commentary by Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Unlike Ms Somers, as a practicing oncologist, Dr Brawley actually does possess credentials in the treatment of cancer. However, I’m sure Ms Somers, her friend Oprah, and their sheep followers will dismiss what he says, since he’s part of the Vast Conventional-Medical Conspiracy that works to destroy people and keep them sick, rather than cure them. (OK, folks, that was just a touch of sarcasm!)

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The case of Daniel Hauser, about whom I’ve blogged already, gets weirder by the day. His mother fled with him so that he missed a court appearance on Tuesday. Since then the father’s responses as to where his wife and son are, have been rather cute and non-revealing.

CNN reports on the latest in this story:

A 13-year-old Minnesota boy whose family has rejected chemotherapy to treat his cancer is near Los Angeles, California, with his mother, and the pair may be planning to travel to Mexico, authorities said Thursday.

Brown County, Minnesota, Sheriff Rich Offmann cited “reliable information” in making the announcement to reporters, adding that Colleen Hauser may be seeking treatment for her son’s lymphoma in Mexico, just south of San Diego, California.

Oh great. Mexico. A country on the cutting edge of medicine … not!

On top of that, authorities made an incongruous statement about the father:

Anthony Hauser, Colleen’s husband and the boy’s father, has been cooperating with law enforcement, Offmann said.

This, however, is contradicted by the father’s dodginess and defiance earlier in court, as reported by the Star Tribune:

Anthony Hauser said he last spoke to his wife about 4 p.m. Monday as he milked cows at the family farm near Sleepy Eye. He said his wife told him she was going to leave and “That’s all you need to know.”

The words he said to the judge are certainly not those of someone who’s being “cooperative.”

The CNN report also shows the family being inconsistent:

Family spokesman Dan Zwakman told CNN Thursday that Anthony Hauser was not aware that his wife was taking the child.

This claim is — again — contradicted by what Anthony Hauser had told the judge. So this “spokesman’s” claims cannot be accepted at face value.

In addition to being dodgy and lying to people, the family still appears to be in denial about the nature of Daniel’s illness, as CNN goes on to report:

But Zwakman told CNN’s “American Morning” program Thursday that he knows five people who have been cured with natural healing.

“Yes, it’s happened many times,” he said.

So Zwackman and the Hausers “know” chemotherapy won’t work because they know of cases where alternatives have. I guess they never heard of the placebo effect, and have verified that in all of these cases the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma had been correct in the first place. Hmm. Why do I doubt both of these? The rationalizing and justification for killing their kid are elucidated at the end of the CNN report:

Mankato, Minnesota, lawyer Calvin P. Johnson, who identified himself as the Hauser family’s attorney, has declined interviews but issued a statement “by way of clarification and hopefully to aid your understanding of the procedural nuances in the Danny Hauser case.”

The statement listed 12 points. Among them:

• The first and foremost important principle is: It is a violation of spiritual law to invade the consciousness of another without their consent.

• This is a case of Love vs. Power. Love gives. Power takes.

• The state does not have a right to take.

• A parent’s love and affection is a positive social right we all share.

• The court compelled Colleen Hauser to make a decision between three chemotherapy providers. Apparently, she didn’t like the list.

• The court was forcing her to decide.

• The decision for treatment cannot be forced.

• Anthony and Colleen Hauser share Danny’s viewpoint: They do not approve of chemotherapy. Under the circumstances of this case, chemotherapy constitutes assault and torture when given to a young man who believes that it will kill him.

Note that many of these “points” have absolutely no bearing on the validity and effectiveness of chemotherapy, so they are irrelevant “fluff.” And if chemotherapy constitutes “assault and torture,” what then would one call allowing a child to die, in order to avoid it? How is that any more moral? (Answer: It’s not.)

An additional note as clarification: The idea that the Hausers are following some kind of spiritual or religious mandate, is absurd on its face. As I blogged before, the “Nemenhah Band” is not a religion per se; it is, instead, a marketing gimmick cooked up in 2001 by a naturopath, Phillip “Cloudpiler” Landis, in order to sell naturopathic (i.e. useless) remedies. It claims to be a traditional native American religion, however, it has no native American members, and no other native American religious groups recognize it; and while it includes various Christian and especially Mormon ideas, other Mormons as well as the LDS Church also do not recognize it. It is, therefore, a non-religion, which the Hausers have used as a pretense for not treating their son’s cancer. All the talk about “spirituality” and “religious freedom” is, therefore, a lie. Plain and simple.

I also question why authorities in Minnesota are now saying that Anthony Hauser is “cooperating.” Clearly he was defiant — to the judge’s face even — so this is not a credible claim on their part. Either he’s done a unilateral turnaround on the matter — which again is contradicted by what the family’s spokesman and lawyer are saying — or he is not, in fact, cooperating at all. Clearly the authorities were taken by surprise and are now engaging in the well-worn practice of “covering their asses” to make it appear they know what’s happened, in spite of having let the Hausers pull the wool over their eyes.

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A Minnesota judge recently decided that Daniel Hauser, a boy who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, must resume chemotherapy treatment for his illness in spite of his espoused Nemenhah religious beliefs against doing so (here’s a report by the Pioneer Press):

Judge John Rodenberg said in a 58-page ruling that there is overwhelming medical evidence Daniel Hauser most likely will live if he receives the treatment and die if he doesn’t. …

After receiving one chemotherapy treatment in February, Daniel suffered some chest pain and other symptoms, and refused the remaining five recommended treatments.

Daniel and his parents instead pursued alternatives that included diet, vitamins and ionized water — stating they belonged to the Nemenhah, a quasi-American Indian spiritual group that opposes medical care that can harm the body.

Let me note, first, that it’s refreshing to see Minnesota chooses not to follow the Texas legal philosophy that it is acceptable to injure or even kill people if it’s part of a religious observance. (Texas can be a very dangerous state!)

I suppose it would be easy for me to condemn the Hauser family for putting their metaphysics ahead of their child’s life … but I’m not at all sure that’s what’s going on here. Daniel’s objections to chemotherapy are, quite frankly, all over the map, as the story mentions. The chronologically-oldest objection was this:

After receiving one chemotherapy treatment in February, Daniel suffered some chest pain and other symptoms, and refused the remaining five recommended treatments.

I can definitely believe that side-effects of chemo are tough to deal with. No doubt about it. But the side-effects of chemo need to be weighed against the consequence of not treating Hodgkin’s … which is death. Daniel’s next objection was:

Daniel and his parents instead pursued alternatives that included diet, vitamins and ionized water — stating they belonged to the Nemenhah, a quasi-American Indian spiritual group that opposes medical care that can harm the body.

This is the point where the Nemenhah religious beliefs came into play. One must wonder whether this was merely a legalistic justification for refusing treatment rather than a genuine belief. That Daniel himself could not explain Nemenhah suggests exactly this:

A turn in the trial came Saturday when an attorney appointed by the court to represent Daniel’s interests said he doubted the “genuineness” of the boy’s spiritual beliefs based on his own closed-door testimony to the judge.

In his final argument, attorney Thomas Sinas noted that Daniel couldn’t even read his own written statement to the court in which he claimed his Nemenhah faith. Daniel also had testified that he only recently became a medicine man when his mother told him he was one.

(Note, in Nemenhah, even 13-year-old boys can be “medicine men.”)

Daniel even denied he was sick at all, in order to justify not getting chemo; Judge Rodenberg wrote:

However, he does not believe he is ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill currently.

“He has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is apparently not in remission from the available evidence.”

So Daniel even engaged in the age-old psychological tactic of “denial” in order not to have to get the treatment. In fact, the true reason Daniel objected came out in the judge’s questioning:

The judge asked him specifically why he didn’t want chemotherapy.

“Because I didn’t like the idea of it,” he responded.

“OK. I have to say at age 13, I probably wouldn’t have known anything about chemotherapy,” the judge said, “so I need to know from you what you knew about it at that point in time and why you didn’t want it.”

“Because (of) all the side effects.”

“How did you know that?”

“My mom told me.”

Daniel also discussed an aunt who died amid chemotherapy treatments for a different kind of cancer. Daniel was about 5 years old at the time.

“Did you see her when she was having chemotherapy?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Daniel stated.

“What did you see?”

“She was really sick. She was sick, and I didn’t want to go through what she had to go through.”

So there you have it. Daniel doesn’t want chemo because his mother told him it was bad, and also because of an aunt’s bad experiences with it (which, quite possibly, is the reason his mother told him it was bad). I have to wonder how much “Nemenhah beliefs” had to do with this; it sure looks like a legal contrivance to me. Rather than help the boy deal with the side-effects of chemotherapy — which would have been the responsible thing to do — the family chose, instead, to indulge his fears and try to prevent him from getting care that will save his life.


As for the “Nemenhah faith,” I’ve tried to find out what it is. There’s precious little objective information about it. As near as I can discover it was founded by a man named Phillip “Cloudpiler” Landis around 2001, as a way of promoting “natural” remedies (he’s a naturopath). The Nemenhah Band (as the Missouri group calls itself) has a mix of native American and pseudo-Mormon beliefs, although neither native Americans nor the LDS Church have anything to do with them.

Given the odd and dubious nature of “the Nemenhah Band” itself, as well as the dubiousness of the Hausers’ own belief in Nemenhah in the first place, I suspect that religion played little or no role in this affair, except to serve as a legal pretense.

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