Penthouse Retrospective

by Gary Null, Leonard Steinman, Terry Leder, Kalev Pehme Originally Published: July, 1980

Cancer Politics – Part Five | 40 Years Ago This Month

Burton’s cooperation with Metpath and others contradicts the accusation that Burton is secretive about his method. In 1978 Burton attempted to reinterest the National Cancer Institute in funding further research and evaluating the progress of patients under his treatment. He submitted several plans to Arthur Upton, NCl’s director, including one in which the IRC would absorb all costs. The NCI would select independent oncologists (cancer specialists) to monitor the progress of 1,000 patients. But Upton, on behalf of all U.S. cancer victims, past and present, finally rejected the offers.

Upton alleged that no one in the NCl’s vast network of researchers and laboratory technicians had any interest in testing Burton’s thesis and results “until after it [Burton’s research] has been reported in the literature in full detail to make possible replication” —a Catch-22, considering that Burton has been refused publication.

Burton has achieved his best results with metastatic prostate cancer, melanoma (a type of skin cancer), bladder cancer, and head and neck tumors. He has been the object of both panegyrics and condemnation in the press. Despite his controversial status, many physicians refer their patients to his clinic as a last resort and usually after all conventional therapy has failed. The total remissions achieved in some of these cases are therefore all the more remarkable.

Of Rottino’s original team at St. Vincent’s, only Burton has continued in the field opened by the team’s initial discoveries. Robert Kassel, who went to SloanKettering, is dead. Martin Kaplan and John Harris, who was sent by Sloan-Kettering to collect data but who ended up working with the team, have disappeared, and we were unable to locate them. Rottino remains at St. Vincent’s. Friedman, who worked with Burton for 20 years, is now a biology professor. When we tried to contact him in New York, he denied that he was the Friedman we were seeking. Apparently, the memories of the years of frustration are as painful for him as they are for Burton.

THE SCOPES TRIAL

In October 1976 Dr. Burton was still located in Great Neck, N.Y. Dr. John T. Beaty, who had heard about Burton’s work, arranged to meet him. A compassionate physician, Dr. Beaty told some of his patients who were suffering and dying of cancer — their conditions unrelieved by conventional cancer “treatment” — about Burton’s work. Some of them sought out Burton, importuned his help, and returned to confide in Dr. Beaty. Beaty agreed to monitor their progress with Burton.

What Dr. Beaty observed in his patients who went to Burton resulted in his open support of the scientist, and he obliged those of his cancer patients who asked him to send their blood samples to Burton. After Burton moved to the Bahamas, those of Beaty’s patients who went to the Bahamas for testing and treatment by Burton were monitored by Beaty on their return. Trouble came after an article in the National Enquirer quoted Beaty as supporting Burton’s work. The article repeated Beaty’s statement that he had recommended about 20 patients to Burton — most of whom were in the terminal stage of their disease — and that half of them had experienced either observable regression of their tumors or notable improvement in their condition.

The result of the article’s appearance was, first, Beaty’s summary expulsion from the staff of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, despite his 30-year affiliation. Next, a charge was framed by the Greenwich Medical Society, accusing him of “unethical conduct” in failing to adhere to the precept that “a physician should practice a method of healing founded on a scientific basis, and he should not voluntarily associate with anyone who violates this principle.”

In November 1977 the Greenwich Medical Society, after a hearing, censured Dr. Beaty, a physician with impeccable establishment credentials. Beaty was found guilty of associating with Burton. He also was reprimanded for this association by the Greenwich Hospital, and he continues to be subjected to ostracism by his colleagues. Beaty, a dedicated physician in a small community, was punished because he dared to put his concern for his patients’ welfare above the narrow self-interest of the medical establishment.

UNPROVING BURTON

Despite the fact that no one has disproved Burton’s theories, he remains on the American Cancer Society’s blacklist. As long as his work is maligned by the ACS as “unproven,” he will continue to be thought of as a quack, a charlatan, a fraud, by country-club doctors more concerned about maintaining the medical status quo than about actively seeking the relief of human suffering.

Burton’s appearance on the American Cancer Society’s blacklist is an affront to reason and common sense. His entire adult life has been devoted to science and scientific discipline. His main work is patented. His degrees are legitimateBachelor of Science, Master of Science, and a Ph.D. in experimental zoology.

Because Burton is on the Unproven Methods list, many doctors throughout the United States refuse to cooperate with him, since that would mean associating with a healing method that is “not scientific,” even though many other physicians seek him out on behalf of their dying patients and cooperate with him subrosa.

Burton may or may not have achieved a breakthrough in cancer research. We will not know until he is removed from the unproven list and scientific, not political, considerations are used to evaluate his work. It is interesting to note that one of the accusations against him is that his work is strictly “empirical,” that is, knowledge by experience or trial and error. But it is also true that practical experience often provides the basis for legitimate, scientific inquiry, as it has for most of modern medicine.

Finally, there is the question as to why all this happened. There is a problem with Burton’s lack of political tact, which makes him unable to work in the political system to his own advantage. Burton’s outspokenness often makes him his own worst enemy, but that doesn’t make him any less objective.

Burton’s history reminds us of what we all tend to forget, that there is an opposing tension between the requirements of knowledge and the requirements of political institutions. The establishment attempts to build faith in itself by convincing the public at large that it knows what it is doing and can handle any situation. If, however, a scientist comes along and proves that the assumptions that give strength to an institution are in fact false or uncertain, then the whole institutional edifice becomes shaky. Belief and faith in the institution are diminished, and its leadership is placed in jeopardy. Rather than risk that possibility, institutions tend to try to control everything, every development, to make certain that any innovation that comes out does so in the establishment’s name. History also tells us that innovators like Burton ultimately will prevail and the institutions that attempt to suppress them will disappear and be forgotten.

Of all the things that should be above petty egotism, you might think pushing a cure for debilatating disease might qualify. Yet Cancer Politics thrives, sadly even 40 years after this article.

Leave a Reply