Having studied Lord Saatchi’s draft Medical Innovation Bill, I was pleased with Robert Illidge’s thoughtful perspective. As a retired NHS consultant and an expert witness with experience of medical negligence from both sides (and at the risk of becoming frightfully unpopular), I would suggest that entrusting only the medical profession, which is still wedded to a biomedical model, with the cure for cancer is misguided.
For example, the World Cancer Research Fund states that two in five cases of breast cancer would be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. Cancer is substantially a lifestyle disorder, exacerbated by environmental toxicity, and not simply a medical disease.
As Lord Saatchi admitted, it was poetry that saved his wife’s life (not medicine). There is no magic bullet cure for cancer. Lord Saatchi intuitively recognises this by his puzzlement: ‘How is it possible that there’s been so much technological advance in so many spheres but not in cancer?’ It is a mistake to seek answers from technology when our ecology and modern lifestyles are nurturing the seeds of cancer. Thus, in a majority of cases, prevention is the cure. We should not be like the proverbial drunk looking for our lost keys under the lamppost, not where the keys were dropped, because that is where the light is.
Cancer treatment has become an industry and dissenters dismissed as snake-oil merchants. Fortunately, Lord Saatchi’s bill requires ‘discussion of any dissenting opinions within the multidisciplinary team or outside’. Only a more respectful regard for non-medical colleagues and the views of the patient can facilitate this discussion.
Robert Illidge rightly asserts that ‘the medical experts we rely on need to be able to treat the individual patient in the way that best suits that patient’. In the cancer field, they need to embrace a more comprehensive biopsychosocial approach, rather than an outdated biomedical model.
Dr Waseem Alladin, editor-in-chief, Counselling Psychology Quarterly: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, University of Leicester