Testimony against Legalization of Amygdalin or Laetrile
Before the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs
Annapolis Maryland, February 9, 1978
Robert E. Jones
Summary of Testimony
- Laetrile is of unproven efficacy.
- Use of laetrile often means a cancer patient will forego treatment with proven, conventional cancer therapies, as with my wife.
- Unprofessionalism of laetrile clinic operators.
- Dubious sponsorship and support for laetrile—i.e. John Birch Society involvement.
- Legalization of laetrile will lend credence to a medical-hoax; will place the State of Maryland in the position of supporting the exploitation of cancer victims.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:
I am Robert E. Jones of 5062 Fielding Lane, Temple Hills, in Prince George's County. I am appearing before you today as the survivor of a cancer patient who, in her desperation to live, turned to laetrile in the last weeks of her life.
My wife Mary underwent a radical mastectomy in June of 1974 at the George Washington University Hospital. "The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes but she was informed that if she survived five years her chances of recovery would be good. She was advised by her doctors at the Group Health Association in Washington to have chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She declined both, feeling that the side-effect she had observed in friends who had had breast surgery would be too debilitating to be worth it.
It should be noted, also, that at the time she was reading much literature from the laetrile people which extolled the merits of laetrile and expressed distrust and even disdain for the more conventional, legal treatments of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as surgery, described in the literature as "cutting and burning." A book which attracted her attention and was convincing to her was "World Without Cancer," written by one G. Edward Griffin, not a medical doctor, but a prolific writer and publicist for the John Birch Society.
In early January of 1976 a chest x-ray revealed that the cancer had spread to my wife's lungs and that this was inoperable, thus terminal. Her doctor told me she had from three to six months to live. The only possible hope offered was the removal of her ovaries which the physicians said, sometimes resulted in remission by cutting down the flow of estrogen. She was told by her doctor that there was a one-third chance of survival if she had an oopharectomy or removal of the ovaries. So, in early January 1976, the ovaries were removed.
Following her return home from the hospital my wife began to plead with me to take her to Mexico to one of the laetrile clinics in Tijuana. She said, "I am not going to sit here and wait to die. I am going to try the laetrile."
With money raised by relatives we boarded a plane, and flew to San Diego and were driven to the Tijuana clinic by friends. We stayed at the Clinica Cydel in Tijuana, just a mile or two across the United States border, from about February 11 to March 20.
We paid out a total of over $3,000, counting transportation to and from Tijuana, consultations, lab tests, x-rays, pharmacy and supplies of laetrile, over a five and a half week period in Mexico. We returned on March 21, 1976 and my wife died eight days later in the Doctor's Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Nothing that was done for her in Mexico at the Clinica Cydel prevented the inevitable. She died within three months of the discovery of the cancer in her lungs. Her doctor had given her between three and six months.
When we arrived at the clinic in Tijuana we were taken to a motel-style room or suite of two rooms—two single beds in the bedroom with bath and a sitting room with couch, chair, table and chairs in a dinette area and television. This facility was rented to us for $20 a day. The clinic was not a hospital; there were no hospital beds. Persons who were obviously dying were not admitted, we were told. If surgery was required or chemotherapy or radiation prescribed, patient were driven to the University Hospital in San Diego. Dr. Mario Soto de Leone, medical director of the clinic, said he believed in a variety of approaches to cancer treatment—chemotherapy, radiation and amygdalin, or laetrile as it is popularly known. He said in his first interview with us, "I am an oncologist; I am not a quack." He pointed to a letter on the wall, framed, from the head of the National Cancer Institute in Washington, authorizing him to conduct testing of a certain drug treatment,
After viewing my wife's x-rays, Mary asked him, "What chance do I have?” Dr. Soto rolled his eyes upward and said, It’s all in the hand of the man upstairs,” which I interpreted to mean that her chances were not good; that she was terminal; indeed, was in the hands of God. If that is so, why did the Clinica Cydel people allow us to stay and spend those precious last few weeks away from our children? Indeed, if my wife had taken the advice of Andrew McNaughton, the non-medical head of the laetrile operation whose office is at Clinica Cydel, she would havre died in Mexico and would never have seen her children again. McNaughton, whose training is as an engineer, told my wife in mid-March that she ought to stay another month or so; that "it might make all the difference in the world."
Why, if she was terminal, did the laetrile clinic hold out hope to her and take our money over a period of nearly six weeks while she went into physical decline? One cannot, of course, place a price on human life, but this committee should know what it costs for this treatment. We spent, between February 11 and March 20, a total of $1,507.21 for medical treatment, most of that for laetrile in either the liquid or tablet form; $93.39 for assorted other drugs purchased at the Farmacia; $32 for two visits to the radiologist for x-rays; $712.62 for rental of the motel unit, and air fare from Dulles to San Diego and back for two was $721.46.
My wife collapsed almost immediately after being entered into the clinic. She could not leave her motel room for three days. A nurse came to the room to administer her laetrile shots. Standard dosage was in grams a day, three grams to the vial. I was taught by the nurse to administer it myself to her and did this for the last few weeks and once upon returning home. She rallied somewhat and left her room after three days. We tried a shopping trip to Tijuana but it exhausted her. Her only activity for the next five weeks was to take rides in friends’ cars, eating out at a health-food restaurant at Tijuana beach. On March 12, a second set of x-rays were taken and Dr. Soto claimed to see in these some slight improvement in a lessening by about a quarter of an inch of the pleural effusion, or liquid in her lung. Of three metastases, he said only one or two remained. We became hopeful. Mary actually felt better for about three days; her friends remarked that she looked better She walked and. breathed easier. And then, the dream collapsed and she went into rapid decline.
From about March l6 to March 20, she went downhill fast. She was perplexed for she had had faith in laetrile: "What is happening to me? I can't understand why it's not working," she said. I told her I thought it was time we went home. By this time her nights were filled with terror. She had to sleep in a sitting position. She had great difficulty breathing and was up and down through the night, writing letters or watching television to keep her mind off her suffering. I would prop her head up with three or four pillows and prop up her knees and legs because by this time she was suffering edema or swollen ankles.
We got her home just in time. She was in her own home one day and night when she collapsed and was taken to hospital by ambulance and was administered oxygen. Eight days after returning home, she died. Had we heeded the unprofessional advice of McNaughton at the Tijuana clinic she would have died in Mexico, with all the problems that would have created. And would never have seen her two children again. I think that we were hoodwinked; that we were victims of fraud, a confidence game being played with people's lives and with the only winners of this game being the entrepreneurs who run the laetrile clinics and the smuggling of laetrile into this country. I have a copy of the price list for amygdalin and other illegal drugs which can be obtained Tijuana and which are regularly smuggled to cancer victims in the United States. You will note that you must pay $198.00 for a box of twenty 3-gram vials of amygdalin for shipment abroad. A bottle of 250, 500 mg. tablet, for oral use costs $275.00, a little over a dollar a pill. I know one couple from the State of Washington who went home with at least one bottle of tablets at the fantastic cost, just to keep her morale up, though her husband knew and the doctors told him she was terminal.
My wife and I left with $527 worth of amygdalin on us, smuggled it across the border in a friend's car, the first time my dear wife had ever done anything illegal in her life. We also had a large supply of other drugs which were urged upon us for treatment at home —150 tablets of Wobe-Mugos, three tubes of A-Mulsin-forte, five bottles of hypostamine of 24 tables each, a bottle and a half of something called Atromid-S; one glass syringe and five hypodermic needles.
Here, I submit, the Clinica Cydel people were playing a con game with us—prescribing all these expensive drugs and articles for a patient who was obviously going into decline.
I asked Dr. Soto, the night before we left if he thought laetrile really had any effect on cancer. He replied, "It is not a cure; it is a palliative." My dictionary, Random House Dictionary of the English Language says, to palliate is "1. to attempt to mitigate or conceal the gravity of (a offense) by excuses, apologies, etc; extenuate; 2. to relieve without curing: mitigate; alleviate ..." and a palliative is something that palliates."
Dr. Soto said he had asked Dr. Contreras, director of the larger, old laetrile clinic in Tijuana, to stop calling laetrile a cure and on the literature on display in the clinic I could see where the word "cure" had been pasted over so that it read "nontoxic approach to the prevention, control of tumor conditions. . .", control being substituted for "cure.” Virtually everyone we have been in touch with since our days in Tijuana has reported that their relative subsequently died. The laetrile did no good. I can name a half dozen persons with whom we were friends at the clinic who subsequently died, within weeks or months.
There is no systematic effort made by the Cydel clinic to follow up on patients, to establish whether patients recover or not. This was being considered, I was told, but had not been carried out when I was there two years ago and the clinic had been in operation for about seven months then. My only communication with the clinic since my wife's death was to inform an American member of the staff who had been particularly friendly of my wife's death, and to inform Dr. Soto, the medical director of her death. I asked the latter person to see if she could obtain reimbursement for the large quantity of unused drugs I was sold on the day of our departure. She wrote a sympathetic note back but ignored my request for reimbursement.
So, too, Dr. Soto ignored my request for the x-rays taken of my wife while in Tijuana. The GHA physicians were anxious to verify whether any improvement in my wife's condition had occurred in Tijuana I never received a reply from Dr. Soto and GHA has never received the x-rays.
Dr. Soto is very sensitive to the charges of quackery made against laetrile and maintains that he is "not a quack; I am an oncologist." He admitted in an interview with me at one point that, "The trouble with laetrile is there is too much quackery around it. Some supporters were “overzealous." Many patients, he said, "come for a cure but they respond differently, even where cases' are similar." Asked for success stories, Dr. Soto cited two cases where he said genuine remission had taken place—one in a thyroid cancer patient and another in a cancer of the colon where the patient was doing so well she could now have her colostomy reversed. Soto says he uses amygdalin to start with and then adds chemotherapy and other treatment if necessary and claims the amygdalin reduces side effects from chemotherapy.
Incidentally, on all the bills the amygdalin or laetrile was listed as either "chemotherapy tablets" or 'Chemotherapy vials." When I asked the clerks at the clinic about this they said this would help us with our health insurance in the States. Soto said amygdalin should be considered chemotherapy. Needless, to say, I did not try t get Group Health to pay for chemotherapy in Mexico which they did not prescribe in the United States, nor approve as treatment, and which was, in fact, not chemotherapy.
There are many disturbing aspects to the laetrile controversy. One of these is the fact that the John Birch Society has taken up laetrile as a cause. This rightwing extremist group has whipped up a frenzy against the National Cancer Institute, the. American Cancer Society, the Food and Drug Administration, virtually anyone who has any expertise in cancer treatment. Why? Because these institutions have exposed laetrile a fraud. And the FDA has prevented its distribution and sale in the United States.
Andrew McNaughton, head of the McNaughton Foundation, who masterminds the Tijuana operations, admitted to me the John Birch Society involvement and said that three groups promoting laetrile were "front” for the Birch Society. These are: the Cancer Control Society, the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy, and the International Association of Cancer Victims and Friends.
McNaughton himself, has had a career which can only be described as that of an adventurer. A Royal Air Force test pilot in World War II, he helped run guns to Fidel Castro by ostensibly buying arms far Batista, then arranging for them to be hijacked by the Castro guerilla. He claims to be one of two honorary citizens of Cuba, the other being the late Che Guevera. be told me that in his youth he had been an organizer for the Young Communist League. in Ontario, Canada. He claimed also to have helped the Jews against the British and the Arabs to gain Israeli independence and claims acquaintance with such Israeli leaders as Yitshak Rabin and Shimon Peres. " I asked him how, he, a man of the Left, could make common cause with the John Birch Society, and he replied: "I am a pragmatist. I work with anyone to advance laetrile, my sole cause." He laughed and said, "I am the Communist division of the John Birch Society. It is a case of the Right and the Left going around the circle and meeting.”
McNaughton said an interesting thing to me: "The John Birch Society is not primarily interested in laetrile. They're against the government." I said, "Do you mean the government in medicine," and he replied, "Yes."
Much of the literature and propaganda, peddled by the Birch Society and the laetrile fronts draws a picture of a government conspiracy, aided and abetted by the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association to deny cancer victims a substance which would help them. I refer you to the xerox copies of "LAETRILE: Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy," published by American Opinion, January 1974 issue, the John Birch Society publication which was freely available at the Clinica Cydel.
I cannot believe that my government which yearly sinks millions or dollars into' cancer research, much of it here in Bethesda, Maryland at the National Cancer Institute, would deny the American cancer suffers access to a drug or substance which might retard or cause remission cancer.
As one doctor friend told me—"If that stuff (meaning laetrile ) was any good, someone would have won the Nobel Prize by now." I hope the Maryland Senate and General Assembly will not vote to legalize laetrile. It would be a move that would only raise false hopes, cause cancer victims to divert their savings to a worthless will-o-the-wisp; and worst of all, might cause unnecessary loss of life, as cancer patients forego the conventional, proven treatments of chemotherapy, radiation and other therapies, in favor of the unproven, unverified substance, laetrile.
Members of this committee, you are asked today to stand up to this medical hoax and resist being party to a fraud. I ask you as the surviving husband of a very brave woman who wanted desperately to live If you legalize laetrile you will not be performing a humane act; rather, you will be contributing to the exploitation of people's anxieties and misery.
Laetrile is a snare and a delusion. I ask you to reject the legislation to legalize. Thank you.
This article was posted on October 19, 2006.