There’s something about the death of a child that hits us in a particular way. Maybe it’s the feeling of perversion at seeing death come so early, or our hidden parental instincts kicking into high gear. In the case of five-year-old Billie Bainbridge‘s untimely death at the hands of an aggressive tumor lodged in her brain last weekend though, there’s another emotion that should pop up from under there – a feeling of anger towards one Dr. Stanislaw Burynski.
Because Billie’s story isn’t just about the terminal cancer that took less than a year since its diagnosis to take her life, it’s about the antics of Burynski, a now Texas-based doctor who, for over 30 years, has peddled his particular brand of cancer treatment, antineoplaston therapy, as an experimental but pioneering cure-all for otherwise incurable tumors. Though his supporters allege a smear campaign by the government to suppress his wonder-cure from the public, Burzynski’s spent the last several decades enrolling countless cancer patients at the end of their rope in so-called clinical trials (since he can’t legally treat anyone with his unproven antineoplastons); trials that the patients themselves pay for and with little to show for it. While he champions his antineoplastons (his coined term for a group of peptides originally derived from the body itself) as a non-toxic solution to all forms of cancer, former patients’ testimonials and the ongoing investigation by the Texas medical board have noted the use of off-label chemotherapy drugs during his treatment sessions, a mish-mash of drugs being thrown together without any precaution and at extremely high markups that leave his “patients” with a hole in their pocket anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000.
Though it was the pledge drive by Billie’s family in the UK to raise funds for a visit to the Burzynski clinic that brought to light many of the unscrupulous actions of Burzynski, there’s been a myriad of similar fundraising campaigns throughout the years to send children, husbands, brothers and wives to the Texas clinic in pursuit of one final chance to stave off disease and death – many of which have ended just as Billie’s journey did.
That isn’t to say that any of the blame for their wild goose chases should be placed on the shoulders of cancer sufferers and their families. There’s no telling to what extent any of us would go to for the opportunity to save those we love from the grips of an incurable condition, despite how low the chances. No, the blame falls squarely on the actions of a rogue doctor who sold those families fake promise and optimism to turn a buck and generate publicity for his product.
Billie’s death and the heartbreaking details of it on her fundraising site are another somber reminder that we still have so far to go in dealing with the complicated and multifaceted disease of cancer. It’s also a reminder that hope can come at a price that no one should be tricked into paying.
With the advent of a lawsuit by a former patient and the aforementioned attempt by Texas to once and for all revoke Burzynski’s medical license, perhaps the uncritical praising of this “pioneer” will finally turn on its head, and Stanislaw’ll be seen for what he really is: A snake oil salesman with a PhD and painted on coat of legitimacy.
Catch Ed and his writings at his twitter, TheImprovateer.