UPDATE (25/01/12) The PCC have reached the decision that the article did not breach the Editors’ Code (details here).
UPDATE (18/01/12) The Evening Standard have now published an article by their in-house doctor, Christian Jessen, which is critical of Burzynski’s claims to provide innovative, cutting-edge “Personalised Gene-Targeted Cancer Therapy”. He mentions that scientists have been unable to reproduce what few results the clinic has published and that Burzynski’s treatments have been described by experts as ‘scientific nonsense’.
My original email was sent to Geordie Greig, the Editor. I received an unsatisfactory reply from their Managing Editor, Will Gore earlier this week.
I replied as follows:
Dear Mr Greig,
Further to my email of 16th December and the subsequent reply by Will Gore, I still have strong concerns about the 14th December article regarding Chiane Cloete and the Burzynski Clinic. I do not believe that my concerns have been addressed adequately. I also believe that the article was misleading and contained a number of inaccuracies.
For these reasons, I have decided to file a complaint with the PCC.
My original email made the following points:
- That the Burzynski Clinic is exploiting vulnerable members of the public in an unethical and illegal manner.
- In promoting the clinic, the Evening Standard is effectively complicit in this.
- In the UK, it is illegal to advertise cancer treatments or give advice relating to the treatment of cancer in advertisements. Although promotional newspaper articles may not be covered by this legislation, I believe it would be immoral to ignore it.
- The conclusion of the article, pointing out that Cancer Research UK had described the treatment as ‘unproven’, indicates that the author had done at least some online research and was aware of at least some of the controversy surrounding the clinic. This controversy runs far deeper than doubts over medical efficacy and the now well-documented threats directed at Rhys Morgan by a representative of the clinic.
- I believe putting the word ‘unproven’ in quotes was misleading.
- I believe that the Evening Standard should set the record straight with a balanced, objective and accurate piece on the Burzynski Clinic.
- I have been keeping track of the major developments in the Burzynski controversy on my ‘Master List’ blog post and suggest that you read it.
I understand that, as Will Gore stated in his reply, the intention was to present the article from the point of view of Chiane’s family and that it was essentially a human interest story. I hope I made it clear in my original email that I am not criticising Chiane’s family in any way.
Mr Gore also stated that:
I do not think that vulnerability must necessarily beget naivety
I am not calling anybody naïve. However, anyone who has formed their opinion of the Burzynski Clinic from a combination of reports in the British media and the clinic’s own ‘movie’ and website is likely to have been misinformed. This is essentially my motivation for action – that vulnerable members of the public are being misled in the pursuit of profit. To clarify, I do not wish to comment on individual cases but refer to Burzynski’s patients (and potential future patients) in general.
Mr Gore also stated:
The fact that we made clear that the treatment is not available in this country and is of unproven efficacy would, I believe, have made readers aware that there are doubts about the Burzynski clinic and its work
I disagree. I think this, coupled with the mention of a ‘private clinic’, gives the impression that this is a new and pioneering treatment unavailable on the NHS for cost reasons.
Incidentally, the word “unproven” was placed in quote marks because it is the word used by Cancer Research, not for any ulterior motive
Again, whatever the motives, I believe that this implies that Burzynski is using a new and pioneering treatment. I also think it is unusual to place a single word in quotations in this way (but I must admit I am not an expert on the Evening Standard’s House Style).
I reject your very serious contention that the Evening Standard is complicit in illegality.But I recognise what you say about the continued need to be vigilant with regard to individuals and organisations who set out to offer hope to the sick without overwhelming medical evidence behind them. I will make sure our health correspondent is aware of our exchange for future reference.
Although Mr Gore finds my contention ‘very serious’, he does not seem to have bothered to investigate what I actually meant by ‘illegality’. Again, it is not simply a matter of a lack of ‘overwhelming medical evidence’. The legal and ethical issues surrounding the Burzynski Clinic are many and varied – which is why I did not discuss them in my original email but instead referred you to my blog. I am amazed that you did not see fit to look into this before passing my email on to Mr Gore.
Although (for reasons set out in points 1 – 3), I don’t believe newspapers should be promoting private cancer clinics at all, to do so when there are such serious legal and ethical concerns is shocking. To continue to do so even after such concerns have been pointed out by members of the public is unbelievable.
I find it encouraging that Mr Gore stated that he would make sure the ‘health correspondent’ is aware of our exchange for future reference. I am not sure to whom he refers, but I am well aware that the Evening Standard’s in-house doctor, Christian Jessen, described the Burzynski Clinic’s cancer cure claims as ‘CRIMINAL’ on Twitter on 27th November. This suggests that Dr Jessen was well aware of concerns, even before Rhys Morgan had published the threatening emails he’d received. A follow-up article written by Dr Jessen would have hopefully set the record straight.
In addition to the concerns described above, there are also a number of inaccuracies in the article. I will also mention these in my complaint to the PCC:
- The article is entitled “Cancer girl’s £130,000 plea for life-saving operation in US”. The Burzynski Clinic’s treatment is not an ‘operation’ and there isn’t sufficient evidence of efficacy to accurately describe it as ‘life-saving’.
- The article states that Chiane has two pumps connected to her heart. This is not the case.
- The article states that Chiane was due to have an MRI scan in order to establish whether or not she was ‘fit to fly’. In fact, the MRI scan was in order to make informed decisions about Chiane’s treatment.
- The article describes ‘antineoplastons’ as a “component of the body’s natural defence system”. This is not the case. ‘Antineoplastons’ is a term coined by Burzynski to describe the by-products of the metabolism of an ‘orphan drug’ called sodium phenylbutyrate.
I am hoping that you will now take my concerns seriously and take the necessary steps to resolve my complaint.