Reply to Gina Kolata's New York Times
Article on Dr. Burzynski
© 1996 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
[I can't say I was surprised when The Times did not publish
this angry letter. For more information abou Gina Kolata see our article
on "The Flap Over Angiostatin & Endostatin."]
Gina Kolata's article on Dr. Stanislaw R. Burzynski ("Alternative
Medicine: Doctor's Cancer 'Cure' Attacked by F.D.A." July 24, 1996)
represents a new low in the New York Times' generally negative reporting
on alternative cancer treatments.
The article is not only inaccurate in many details, but lacks the impartiality
and open-mindedness that is required of good science writing. In fact, there
are so many things wrong with Kolata's article that it is hardly worth the
effort of refuting it. I will however focus on just a few areas.
Ms. Kolata not only maligns the doctor but portrays his patients in a
very negative light. They are depicted as "desperate" people who
"slouch" in his office, "take refuge in prayer," give
"tearful testimony," but then "attack" doctors who disagree
with them. I have been to Dr. Burzynski's clinic, most recently this spring.
Apparently, she did not see the dignified and heroic individuals I saw there.
Kolata points out that most doctors whose patients have gone to Burzynski
won't speak out publicly about their impressions of that treatment, especially
if the results have appeared positive.
But speaking out in defense of Burzynski and his patients can be dangerous.
In May, 1995, all my own records of correspondence with Dr. Burzynski were
suddenly subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorneys Office. The subpoena was served
on me by a representative of the Food and Drug Administration. It was only
after I mounted a vigorous legal defense that this subpoena was withdrawn.
The experience was chilling, and I am a journalist, not a medical practitioner.
I believe that fear of the FDA (and not fear of Dr. Burzynski's supporters,
as she claims) deters most doctors from speaking out on Burzynski's behalf.
Ms. Kolata ends her article with the story of 17-year-old Brendan Borek,
who was treated by Dr. Burzynski in 1991. By Kolata's account, Brendan was
declared totally incurable by his conventional doctors and went to Dr. Burzynski
in desperation. According to his parents, they became disillusioned and
"deciding that there was no evidence that the treatment worked."
They abandoned the treatment after just three weeks and Brendan died six
The story is certainly tragic, but what exactly does it prove? That Dr.
Burzynski's treatment does not effect miracles in less than a month? That
some of his patients die? That some of his patients are disaffected?
Is three weeks enough time to judge the effectiveness of any cancer therapy
in such an advanced case? Why are we not told what the Boreks actually learned
about Dr. Burzynski in this time that made them change their minds? Did
Kolata explore the possibility that Brendan and his family were swayed by
all the negative publicity about Burzynski, of which this article is just
a tiny part?
I appeal to the readers (and staff) of the Times to exercise the greatest
degree of caution in reading stories such as this. Has the Times ever made
you aware of its own links to the medical establishment? Do you know that
Richard L. Gelb, chairman of the board of Bristol-Myers Squibb, the largest
chemotherapy company in the world, for many years was a board member of
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the New York Times Corporation?
Finally, I must comment on the word "cure" in Kolatas headline
and article. Take a look at Dr. Burzynski's publicity material, such as
his Internet Web site: the word "cure" does not occur there. It
is the American Cancer Society, an enemy of Dr. Burzynski, that does most
of the cure-mongering in our society. (Remember interferon? interleukin-2?)
Kolata paid one brief visit to Burzynski and found him "frenetic,"
arrogant, unconcerned with patients, etc.
I have visited him four times, spent many hours talking with him and seen him
in action with patients. I believe he is a good man who also happens to
be an excellent and caring physician. His patients, overwhelmingly, love
him. Plus, he has identified a class of compounds which appear to have
significant activity in a number of cancers, and this fact has been recognized
by site visitors from the National Cancer Institute...
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