Stop Wasting Billions Trying To Cure Cancer…
A former editor of the British Medical Journal has claimed that we should ‘stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer’ – because it is the best way to die.
Dr Richard Smith says it may be a ‘romantic view’, but cancer gives people a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, which is denied to many who die from other conditions.
Indeed, he argues that the country is wasting billions trying to cure cancer because curing people of the disease means they are likely to die of worse things, such as dementia.
But cancer specialists and charities disputed his incendiary comments. They said many cancer patients suffered terribly and would not agree that it was ‘the best way to die’.
They also accused the doctor of being ‘nihilistic’ about a disease which ‘takes far too many people far too young’. Dr Smith, 62, who was editor of the BMJ for 13 years until 2004 and is now chairman of the board of directors of medical smartphone app Patients Know Best, airs his views on the nature of dying in a BMJ blog.
Leaving aside suicide, he says there are four ways to die: sudden death; the long, slow death of dementia; the up and down death of organ failure and death from cancer where you ‘go down usually in weeks’.
He says most people tell him they would prefer a sudden death, but he thinks that is very hard on the families of the deceased.
‘The long, slow death from dementia may be the most awful as you are slowly erased, but then again when death comes it may be just a light kiss,’ he says.
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‘Death from organ failure – respiratory, cardiac, or kidney – will have you far too much in hospital and in the hands of doctors.
‘So death from cancer is the best… You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.
‘This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.’
Dr Smith advised patients to ‘stay away from overambitious oncologists’ if they are diagnosed with cancer (file image)
Dr Smith’s observations were made in the context of discussing the filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s fear of overtreatment in his dying days, leading to a ‘horrible medical death’. He died of pancreatic cancer – at the age of 83.
But Dr Smith was strongly criticised for his remarks. Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘Of course we are all going to die, but cancer takes far too many people far too young.
‘It’s only by being ambitious in our research that we can give people a measure of choice, and the more we know about cancer the more we can give people options.
‘My patients are very clear about when they do and when they don’t want treatment, and they would much prefer me to be ambitious than nihilistic.’ Professor Jonathan Waxman, a leading oncologist at Imperial College, London specialising in prostate cancer, said he hoped Dr Smith would never need his services, adding that doctors ‘don’t want anyone to have a horrible death whatever the cause’.
He said: ‘I can’t agree we’re wasting money on cancer research as that would be saying it wasn’t worthwhile to make the investment that’s led to a massive improvement in survival rates. Deaths from breast cancer have gone down from 17,500 just 25 years ago to 11,700 – this is a fabulous development.’
Ali Stunt, founder and chief executive of the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action, was diagnosed with the disease in 2007 and successfully treated.
She said that in the late stages of pancreatic cancer patients face severe problems such as weight loss and pain.
‘There will be many, patients and relatives alike, who will not agree that it is the “best way to die”,’ she said. ‘We should be encouraging further investment into cancer research. After all, one in three of us will get a cancer of some kind in our lifetime.’
Dr Mick Peake, Clinical Lead of the National Cancer Intelligence Network said: ‘I’m not sure, from a philosophical point of view, why Dr Smith feels cancer is any different from other diseases, for many of which medical science has discovered effective treatments.
‘If he had been blogging a hundred years ago would he have said tuberculosis was a “preferred” death and berated those “overambitious TB doctors”?
‘Childhood leukaemia is an excellent example of where slow, systematic research and clinical trials over many years have resulted in the large majority of children who develop leukaemia now living normal or near-normal lives.
‘Overambitious oncologists certainly played a major role in that and many other success stories.’
Owen Sharp, Prostate Cancer UK’s chief executive added: ‘Research is not all about trying to find a cure for cancer, much of it is about finding ways to help people live longer and better with the disease.
‘Everyone’s experience is different and to suggest that dying of cancer is the same for everyone is a ridiculous over-simplification.
‘There is no ‘best’ disease to die from and what really matters is the quality of life people are helped to enjoy, right up to the end, and that means research into prevention, early diagnosis, better treatment and end-of-life care is a top priority.’
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SOURCE : dailymail.co.uk