LIVING PROOF: A MEDICAL MUTINY

Book Review of

LIVING PROOF: A MEDICAL MUTINY

By Michael Gearin-Tosh

334 pp. New York: Scribner, 2002.  ISBN 0-7432-2517-1, $25.00.

The author, an Oxford professor of English literature, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and advised to have chemotherapy. He rejected that advice because of the toxicity of chemotherapy, the uncertain prognosis, and his aversion to the bedside manner of the advising physicians. Instead, he used a variety of treatments advised by non-mainstream practitioners, and he is alive eight years later, defying the odds.

His treatment included:

  1. Gerson Therapy: coffee enemas; a diet of fresh, “live,” organic fruits and vegetables; strict avoidance of salt; potassium and iodine supplements; pancreatin; niacin; and injections of liver extract and vitamin B12.
  2. Orthomolecular Therapy: vitamin C to the bowel-tolerance limit, massive doses of other vitamins and nutrients, supplemented by additions such as Maitake-D-fraction and peppermint oil.
  3. Biophosphonates to maintain bone density.
  4. Enzyme Therapy with pancreatin, protease, amylase, and lipase.
  5. Metabolic Typing Diet based on Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s theories (no tropical fruits, no potatoes)
  6. Acupuncture
  7. Mind Over Matter: visualization fantasies and Chinese breathing exercises.

At one time, he took aspirin for its effect on interleukin-6, but “being drug-averse, ultimately decided not to continue.”

The book is an interesting psychological document describing one man’s reaction to his diagnosis, his rebellion against “the system” and his decision to take control of his own treatment.  It holds lessons for clinicians in how not to alienate patients. It illustrates how an intelligent layman can come to choose alternative medicine.

It also illustrates magical thinking, holistic and vitalistic philosophy, paranoia about the medical establishment, acceptance of intuition as a valid source of knowledge, and a lack of scientific sophistication. While his decision to forgo toxic chemotherapy may have been rational, his blanket acceptance of so many other therapies was not.  He enthusiastically accepted favorable reports but gave little credence to information that contradicted them.

This is a case report, a testimonial that by itself has limited scientific value. It does not constitute proof that the course of his disease was influenced by his treatment, as he himself admits. It is amusing that when a review of this book appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, some alternative medicine advocates celebrated, concluding that this respected journal had finally admitted that alternative medicine was better than chemotherapy.

This article was originally published in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.

(372 words)

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.