Today, I’d like to spread awareness about the Burzynski Cancer Clinic scam. Unlike my other scam articles, this one doesn’t involve a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme and it is already starting to get extensive coverage on the Internet. Nonetheless, I think much can be learned from the story and I find it so interesting on so many levels that I feel I have to try to write about it. I emphasize the word “try” there, because there are so many angles to cover, I’m likely to not do it justice.
Basic Background on the Burzynski Cancer Clinic Scam
The Burzynski Clinic is a cancer clinic in Texas started by Dr. Stanislaw R. Burzynski in 1977. This “doctor” came up with some alternative method of treating cancer. (I put “doctor” in quotes Stanislaw Burzynski may not actually be a doctor.) The thing is that it hasn’t been shown to work. In fact, there are articles that suggest that it has been shown not to work. No other scientists or doctors seem to be able to replicate some of early results he claimed.
You might ask how this clinic is allowed to operate if it doesn’t work. Glad you asked. Turns out that for decades Burzynski has been using a loophole – conducting clinical trials in hopes of getting FDA approval. Since the 90’s he’s done 61 trials that are of the phase II variety (most with “unknown” status – only one “completed”) and only 1 that is phase III. At this point, he should get all the necessary trials done by around 2468… that is if any of them actually show any positive results.
So why do care about these trials? It turns out that price for a treatment at the clinic (i.e. to be a
victim participant in one of the clinical trials) is around $120,000 a year. Though one recent trial’s cost was pegged at $312,000. Insurances won’t cover it, because the treatment is considered somewhere between “unproven” and “disproven” depending on who you talk to.
I could go into more extensive detail about the lawsuits with the FDA or the “science” and the clinic, but I have nothing to add that oncologist David H. Gorski didn’t already write on Burzynski here. He has 7,000 words on the clinic – this section represents the smallest fraction of that story.
“How Much Would Pay for Hope?”
“How much would you pay for hope? £75,000? How about $140,000? Given a life-threatening illness, or a chance to completely change your circumstances, I’d guess that most people would say that hope is priceless, and that they would pay anything, and indeed, everything, for that chance at hope.” – Jennifer Keane at Zen Buffy
Ms. Keane is one of two people who I’m adding to my hero list today… and it’s not just because I have thing for martial arts experts who call themselves Buffy. I’m adding her because she wrote the personal finance component to the story that I was going to write.
I had seen this logic used many times on my previous MLM articles. One early commenter on my MonaVie article said that he read online that the fruit juice helps with autism. So he bought it at a cost of around $1500 per year for his son. His logic was just that, “How can I not try? I have to try something!” My response back was that if he was truly going to use that logic, he’d have to try every product at GNC and every food known to man, “Perhaps a $5,000 bottle of rare French wine is the cure.” Months later he’d come back and comment that I was right, that MonaVie was a scam.
Ms. Keane even addresses potential critics:
“Whenever skeptics debunk pseudo-science, nonsense treatments, or other questionable beliefs, there is always someone who will say ‘what’s the harm’ or ‘why does it matter if someone believes that
will cure them.’… What becomes of those people who spend their last months receiving IV urine derivatives, or forcing down juices while receiving coffee enemas, all while their life savings dwindle away? They die, and often, their families are left in severe debt, paying for the treatment that ‘big pharma’ doesn’t want you to know about.”
Clearly the Burzynski scam of $120,000 a year does a lot more financial harm than MonaVie’s $1500 or Protanim’s $600. However, these MLMs just bleed people dry of their money slowly. Spending $1000 in product costs is just a start, because they suck into you a “business” where you are urged to buy tools and go to conferences which can cost a thousand or two more a year. The business is designed so that 99% of people must fail, but that’s not exactly clear because it is hidden by a complex compensation plan. However, when it comes to selling tools and conferences, it’s a lot easier to say, “You are failing because you aren’t investing in yourself… so spend more money on these learning tools and events.”
The Burzynski scam and the MLMs have one thing common and Ms. Keane does it justice:
“Pedalling false hope is a charlatans game, practised by the lowest of the low. They prey on people who have found themselves in desperate situations, and who have found themselves low on hope. They take advantage of vulnerable people, and leave them financially destitute, and once again, hopeless. Sometimes, the nonsense they sell (whether it is a physical product, or the promise of the metaphysical divine) is so laughable that it’s easy to forget that it’s not a victimless crime.”
She concludes the article in a beautiful way, but since I already quoted her thrice, I imlore you to just read How much does hope cost?
I would love to to write another 500 words about follow up post as it may even be better than the one that I gushed about here, but I don’t have the space. The article, Burzynski in Ireland; arguing with believers, summarizes a Twitter argument with an aspiring politician, Kate Bopp. Every argument that Kate Bopp used is one that I’ve seen an MLM scam artist use – simply lacking logic. She accuses Ms. Keane of being negative and being closed-minded. Years ago, I wrote two articles about those very accusations with regard to MonaVie: MonaVie and Negativity and Being Open-Minded About MonaVie.
Burzynski’s “Lawyer”, Marc Stephens, Bullies Critics with Threats of Defamation
I found out about the Burzynski Clinic because their lawyer decided to bully bloggers for writing their opinion on Burzynski. A better example of the Streisand effect would be tough to find. This “lawyer” (like Burzynski being a doctor, it isn’t exactly clear whether he is a lawyer), a gentleman by the name of Marc Stephens has sent out a number of cease of desist letters in an attempt to get the criticism removed from the Internet. Here are three bloggers who have received and publicly posted the letters. If you enjoy reading other people’s nonsensical logic as much as I do you’ll find them quite entertaining:
- The Burzynski Clinic Threatens My Family.
- Burzynski Research Institute – You have to scroll down to the sections, “A quack issues threats (29/10/2011)” and “Burzynski’s bully bounces back (5/11/2011).” Keep reading after that for many more ridiculous email interactions (Side Note: Can someone get this guy a WordPress installation, or any blogging software, so that I can link to his posts directly?)
- Threats from The Burzynski Clinic
I almost feel bad for calling these letters entertaining. In reality it quite sad that these bloggers have to deal with such crap. In all letters the blogger conducted himself more professionally than the “lawyer.” In the first and third letter, the blogger did what I would say is the right thing and asked for the specific details even bringing up the point that in their country there is a “pre-action defamation protocol” which requires the lawyer to specifically state the offending content in the article rather than just make a wide-sweeping statement that the entire article is false.
For me the highlight in the second article was the bringing up of Munchausen Syndrome and the sexist quote that it is usually attributed to females. He gives a link to the Mayo Clinic that mentions nothing of it being gender-related in any way. Wikipedia also has no mention of any relation to gender. In addition, the person in the second article didn’t pretend to be sick or injured at all. It would be difficult to be more mistaken than Marc Stephens was here.
The third bullet point above is the one that a trusted friend emailed me about. That’s what got me interested in the story. A 17 year old blogger conducting himself amazingly when this lawyer tried to bully him inappropriately. I always thought that I matured at a young age, but this Rhys Morgan is ridiculously mature and brilliant to stand up to this. It was only in reading that article that I found the other articles that were equally bad.
I’ve been when these bloggers are before. MonaVie has sent me two legal threats in an attempt to get me to take down my post about how they are scamming people. Also, One24 Threatened to Sue Me for Defamation. In each case, I responded publicly to such threats as each of these bloggers did. It’s become clear to me the game of these “lawyers” is to bully people with legal threats rather than address carefully constructed criticism. When One24 failed with their bullying tactic, they at least attempted to respond to such criticism with a podcast – unfortunately the the podcast failed to appropriately address any of the criticism and only further proved my point that One24 is a scam and I’m willing to go to court to prove that it is a pyramid scheme if they want (I have the FTC’s guidelines on my side.)
If you’ve read this far, I applaud you. I know it’s a lot to digest, but I hope you find it as entertaining and educational as I have. I hope that together we can spread the word and put an end to these scams – it will save people billions of dollars if we do.
If I didn’t give you enough to read on the Burzynski scam, here’s one more that I couldn’t really fit into the article: Stanislaw Burzynski and the great peptide cancer debacle.