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"Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering": Unraveling the Threads of a Contested Cancer Treatment 

Tuesday, Sep 9 2014
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Director Eric Merola's self-released documentary begins with the disclaimer that it does not endorse any particular treatment for cancer. That's actually pretty clear from the movie itself, but so's the reason that its first point of business seems to have been encouraged by a lawyer. Merola's film takes its title from the name of a mimeographed newsletter that circulated in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the 1970s; the newsletter served as a "the clearinghouse for a lot of grievances within the institution." That's according to Ralph W. Moss, who worked in the public affairs office there, and whose own grievances had to do with being encouraged to disavow evidence that the drug laetrile might have "certain positive effects in stopping the spread of cancer." Moss contends that a cover-up occurred not because the drug didn't work, but because it was cheap — a threat to Big Pharma's bottom line. At the time still smarting from a scandal involving bogus skin transplants between mice, the Sloan-Kettering leadership did make at least one unequivocal bad move: hiring a PR guy who became a whistleblower. They later fired him, of course, but here Moss is, now the author of a book called The Cancer Industry, sitting calmly before Merola's camera and describing his former employers as "diabolical." To his credit, he seems to take no pleasure in the fact that they all eventually died of cancer.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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