Cures or `Quackery'?
How Senator Harkin shaped federal research on alternative medicine
In the course of the telephone conversation, Wiewel mentioned that he was on the OAM's advisory council. A packet of literature from Wiewel containing membership application forms mentioned his NIH affiliation in four separate places.
Kirchstein of NIH acknowledges there were concerns about the misuse of NIH's imprimatur by advisory council members, but she says that "we do not go out and police." Wiewel was, however, sent what one NIH official calls a "cautionary note" earlier this year reiterating NIH's policy forbidding any NIH advisory council member from using his affiliation to promote a product or service. Wiewel confirms receiving such a letter but says it was "more of a clarification letter." He says he has not been required to change any of his literature.
Wiewel, in his telephone sales pitch to a prospective member of his group, also asserted that NIH was studying a number of alternative cancer treatments, including "immunoaugmentative therapy," or IAT, an unapproved cancer cure banned after the Food and Drug Administration found that the injectable "therapy" was tainted with bacteria, hepatitis and HIV. Wiewel has promoted IAT in the past through a group called the IAT Patients' Association, which operated from the same post office box and telephone number as People Against Cancer. (A spokesman for NIH denies that the OAM has ever studied IAT.) Wiewel's organization still advertises a travel agency that can help cancer patients arrange trips to the Bahamas to obtain the IAT treatment.
Marketers of dubious treatments also have recently begun to refer to a massive report issued this spring by an earlier ad hoc advisory council to the OAM--which included many of the same people who now serve on the regular council. The report was an uncritical catalog of virtually every dubious and unproven treatment method of the past 100 years, from shark cartilage to treat arthritis and cancer to hypnosis as a way to increase breast size. The list of consultants brought in to produce the report included a number of promoters of questionable and even fraudulent treatments. In the latter category was Edward Sopcak, who in 1992 was found in contempt by a federal court for violating an injunction that barred him from selling "CanCell"--a potion he made in his kitchen from ingredients that included sulfuric and nitric acids and that he peddled as a cure for cancer, arthritis, diabetes and AIDS.
"Success rates." Part of the Harkinites' agenda has been to promote what they call "field investigations" or "outcomes research." "You go out and just simply find out whether what [someone] claims is correct or not. You check patients before they are treated; you check them after they are treated," Bedell told a Senate hearing. In an interview, he added that anyone who argued clinical trials were necessary was only going to "help more and more people to die."
Bedell, Wiewel and Ralph Moss, another council member identified as a Harkinite, have said that rather than award research grants, the OAM should visit alternative-medicine clinics and report on their "success rates." Moss, who edits a newsletter sent to members of People Against Cancer, was fired from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's public-affairs office in 1977 after he appeared at a press conference to denounce the hospital for supposedly covering up the benefits of laetrile, a discredited cancer cure. He could not be reached for comment.