Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018

Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018.

Here is the email I sent to all TDs and Senators asking for their support to defeat proposed new legislation targeting advertisements of certain cancer treatments.

I believe the Bill (which passed the second stage in Dáil Eireann in April) is a deliberate attempt to close down all sources of information about “alternative” cancer treatments and those who offer them to patients.

There are other worrying aspects to the Bill that are not dealt with in my email because I didn’t want to risk losing people’s interest by writing a long email. These can be dealt with later on in the debate if necessary.

I would very much welcome your feedback.

Re: Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018.

Dear Oireachtas member,
I appeal to you in the strongest possible terms to oppose the Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018 at every stage of its passage through the Oireachtas. The sponsor of the Bill, Deputy Kate O’Connell – a pharmacist – claims the aim of the Bill is to protect vulnerable cancer patients from advertisers peddling ineffective treatments.

However, I believe the Bill is aimed at suppressing legitimate criticism of the dangerous cancer drugs and treatments that are used routinely in our hospitals, rather than a genuine attempt to protect the public from false advertising.

While I agree that the law should protect vulnerable cancer patients from false advertising, it is obvious that this Bill goes far beyond that. As the owner of a not-for-profit website that provides cancer information in Ireland, I find its proposal to severely penalise anybody who provides “any advice in connection with the treatment of cancer” particularly disturbing.

While my website doesn’t provide medical advice to cancer patients, it does provide general advice to patients – for example, it encourages patients to question the safety and efficacy of any treatments proposed by their medical team. It also advises patients about a whole range of strategies and treatments that neither oncologists nor the Irish Cancer Society informs them about.

If this Bill is passed into law, I believe I will be forced to take my website offline, depriving patients and their families of valuable information.

But the Bill is much more dangerous than that. It is a direct assault on the democratic right of journalists and others to challenge the vested interests of the medical-industrial complex. In fact, if the legislation proposed in this Bill had been in force in the UK in the 1960s it would have been a crime for the Sunday Times to have challenged the drug company assertion that Thalidomide “can be given with complete safety to pregnant women without adverse effect on mother and child”. This Bill would prevent Thalidomide victims and others from publicly questioning the efficacy of the drug. Cui bono?

Speaking in the Dáil, the sponsor of the Bill said:
“This short Bill is about being able to prosecute people who are making large sums of money by peddling treatments or cures that, at best, have no proven effect whatsoever and, at worst, increase suffering, cause even greater pain and often hasten death”. Ironically, this perfectly describes pharmaceutical companies and the dangerous cancer drugs they peddle. For example, The Lancet medical journal published a 2016 study carried out by Public Health England and Cancer Research UK that looked at more than 29,112 patients with breast cancer and 15,545 patients with lung cancer who underwent chemotherapy in 2014. Of those treated, 1,974 died within 30 days. Why doesn’t the Bill target the pharmaceutical companies that peddle these “treatments” in order to protect cancer patients?

Furthermore, no evidence was produced by Deputy O’Connell to support the claims that patients in Ireland are being targeted by false advertisements. Speaking in the Dáil, she praised the Primetime show broadcast last year showing the plight of terminally ill cancer patients going to foreign clinics for treatment. However, the programme did not show gullible victims lured overseas by targeted advertisements. Rather, it showed people fighting for their lives who researched treatment centres outside Ireland and subsequently made contact with them – it wasn’t the other way round.

Finally, patients wouldn’t be looking outside Ireland for other kinds of treatment if they could access them at home. So, rather than penalising those of us who provide educational information about such treatments, legislators should be focusing on removing outdated laws that deny patients access to their treatments of choice in the first place.

Please, for all our sake, kill the Bill.

Yours sincerely,
Tommy Roche


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