Caught in the Act
July 9th 2012, 11:56
We recently fell foul of the Cancer Act 1939. It's the same pernicious act that forced the cancellation of an alternative cancer conference in Totnes, Devon the other month, which was to feature the Italian oncologist Tullio Simoncini. For us, we have been stopped from advertising our cancer books and recordings with some of the world's great cancer pioneers.
The act is brutal in its simplicity. It prevents the advertising to the public of any cancer therapy. It matters not if the therapy has saved lives, has been proven to work, or is carried out by qualified doctors - nobody is allowed to advertise the fact.
The ban was a very English affair. A very nice lady from the local Trading Standards office knocked on our office door one day, and said she had received complaints from several other trading districts about our cancer products.
Looking over the act, or, rather, the two paragraphs that applied to our activities, quickly made me see that, indeed, we were bang to rights. Failure to comply could result in a fine, then a larger fine, and finally imprisonment.
While I love porridge, I decided I didn't like it that much, and so agreed to remove the advertisements. Now, instead of explaining what you might read if you bought our Cancer Handbook, for instance, we are allowed to describe it only thus: 'Cancer Book'.
I'd like to think that the intention behind the act was an honourable one. People who have cancer are more vulnerable, and should be protected from snake-oil salesmen who sell them a useless product. Quite right, too. But what about the therapies that do work, and have been demonstrated to work in helping thousands of cancer patients? Don't people have a right to hear about those?
The answer is supplied in the act's small print: it was written in association with the then National Radium Trust, the authority that managed radiology, one of the two main conventional treatments for cancer. The act also permitted the Treasury to lend up to lb500,000 to the trust, roughly equivalent to lb90 million in today's money.
Because there is no distinction made between 'quack' therapies and those that have proven and demonstrable merit, the act denies the cancer patient the right to truly informed consent.
The path to hell is paved by good intentions - but perhaps the intentions of those who drafted the act weren't so pure in the first place.