Politics, Profits and Professionalism
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, Alternative Medicine is defined as “the treatment and prevention of disease by techniques that are regarded by modern Western medicine as scientifically unproven or unorthodox.” The American Medical Association essentially is the governing body of this profession in the United States. This organization defines what is scientifically acceptable, and that which is unorthodox. That which is declared as unproven is often considered dangerous for the simple reason that it doesn’t conform to their definition of efficacious and safe at the time.
It is pretty well agreed that health care as we know it in the United States today is significantly driven by the movement of money under the protection of politics. The influence of corporations and mega-drug companies on the actual “practice” of medicine — from HMO-assigned doctors to getting patients to “ask your physician about…” drugs the company sells — affects everyone who at some time in their lives is called a “patient.” The AMA, besides being a standard bearer for the profession, also is significantly involved in protecting the interests of its own constituency, sometimes regardless of the fallout patients may experience from it. Taking a look at the history of the formation of the AMA offers an indication how, when self-interest takes precedence over sound judgment, the public can be deprived of potentially cost-effective and life-saving treatment. It illustrates how the will of one individual can define the development of a profession, and even the course of a disease.
Back in the 1930’s, the American Medical Association was one man’s idea, with a magazine to promote it. Calling for higher standards in the profession, the magazine acted as an informational soapbox. Its impact did not begin to spread until its founder, a Dr. Morris Fishbein, began a very visible campaign against so-called quackery in medicine.
Harry Hoxsey was the perfect target for Fishbein. Somewhat of a P.T. Barnum type and without formal education, Hoxsey began offering a natural external and internal treatment for cancer to whoever needed it; pay what you can and if you have no money, fine!
His Grandfather, a veterinarian, developed the formula. He observed how cancer-inflicted horses “cured” themselves of the disease by eating certain flora. He combined that knowledge with obscure Native American remedies. He started treating friends, to good effect. He directed Harry to continue his work.
Hoxsey’s formula was credited with literally thousands of cures of cancer over the course of more than thirty years. Fishbein, his magazine, and the AMA as it grew and consolidated power, relentlessly ran Hoxsey and his formula into the ground, forcing his numerous clinics across the US to close. At one point his Dallas clinic was treating over 12,000 patients! Today, there is one clinic left, in Tijuana, Mexico.
This was a relentless, thirty-year campaign, orchestrated by one man whose publicity fueled the growth of the AMA. To illustrate the degree of harassment that Hoxsey endured, in one year alone Fishbein initiated Hoxsey’s arrest over 100 times!
With his magazine as a weapon, Fishbein mounted an offensive against what had been perhaps the most accessible, cost-effective and self-manageable cure for cancer available to the people of that time. He was instrumental in blocking any chance the formulas had to be fairly tested in clinical trials. The publicity generated helped establish both he and his magazine as standard-bearers for medicine and set the scene for the AMA to become the legitimizing entity for the medical profession.
Behind the scenes, however, Fishbein and a consortium were maneuvering to take over Hoxsey’s formula for the purpose of taking this “cure” off the market. Hoxsey rebuffed them. It was shortly thereafter that Fishbein really turned up the heat. A few years later, Hoxsey was dead.
As a postscript to the Hoxsey story, ironically enough, Fishbein was discovered to have been a fraud himself and was discredited as a physician.
The full story reads like a crime novel, complete with quirky, contradictory characters, skullduggery and betrayals. To get real insight into the controversial elements that fueled the standardization of a profession that affects each and every one of our lives, it’s worthwhile to check out, When Healing Becomes a Crime: The Amazing Story of the Hoxsey Cancer Clinics and the Return of Alternative Therapies (Paperback) by Kenny Ausebel