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Fight for a life


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 9, 2000
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A Tucson couple has recently gained national attention for fighting for the right to have their son get an alternative cancer treatment. The parents seek a treatment they believe is nontoxic, offered by Houston oncologist Barzynski. However, the FDA has blocked their request, and in the process, it has sparked a debate over the right of government agencies to control the types of treatments that patients receive. In this case, the FDA is making the right decision.

Though these parents might not like the intrusion into their decision making, all available scientific evidence points to chemo and radiation as the best way to save Thomas Navarro's life. Though the FDA is not always popular for its decisions, it is only trying to protect the public from harm. Four-year-old Thomas Navarro has a type of brain cancer called medulloblastoma. His tumor was discovered in September and removed two days later. Thomas's physicians then recommended that he be treated with chemotherapy and radiation to prevent the cancer from reoccurring. Medulloblastoma is a cancer that has a habit of recurring . The prognosis for 90 percent of patients who do receive chemotherapy and/or radiation is death within a year.

Knowing all of this, the Navarro family rejected the medically accepted course of chemotherapy and radiation for an experimental treatment being done by one Houston oncologist. The Navarros say they fear putting dangerous chemicals in their boy and favor the experimental treatment. This experimental treatment involves using synthesized human peptides as a way of fighting cancer. The boy's parents say they prefer it because it is natural and nontoxic.

The medical community has yet to throw their support behind this treatment, and the Houston oncologist whom the Navarros want to treat their son has yet to conduct any clinical trials. To add more confusion to an already complicated and heartbreaking issue, the Republican presidential candidates have decided to use Thomas' situation to their advantage. With Alan Keyes as their leader, candidates Bush, McCain and Forbes sent a letter to Washington protesting the government's intrusion into private medical affairs. Cancer is an incredibly scary occurrence for a family, especially when the victim is a child. Parents who have children with cancer often will do anything to make sure their children receive the right treatments. This couple feels that they are doing that very thing by seeking out a method of treatment that will not make their tiny son suffer needlessly.

However, the medical community and the FDA have understandably endorsed a proven course of treatment for the young boy. Their opinions are based on the hard data they have collected. The alternative treatment that the Navarros are eager to try had no hard science to back it up. Considering the death rate without chemo and radiation, I agree with the FDA that this is no time to experiment.

People seem to have forgotten that the FDA was set up in order to protect the public. Its job is to make sure treatments are as safe as can possibly be before they allow the public to receive them. They require clinical trials and data in order to assure the public's safety.

They are not an agency that wants to see people die, but rather one that wishes to keep them safe.

Even though the FDA is only trying to protect the public, there are many who say it does not have the right to halt people for doing whatever is necessary to become well. Some claim that the FDA is overly cautious, and because of it, people die needlessly.

I would like these same people for a moment to consider the alternative. We live in a society that is willing to sue anyone when something goes wrong. Imagine, if you will, a world without the FDA. There would be no organization that collected data and made sure that pharmaceutical companies delivered on their promises. There would be no organization to pull unsafe drugs off the market, no organization to keep a watchful eye on one of the most lucrative industries in the nation. It would be a far less safe place to live and be medically treated.

All of these decisions can be made by me easily because I do not have a small child dying of a fatal disease. I sympathize with these parents who are desperate to do what is best for their child. I still believe that the FDA made the right decision, and I hope that Thomas will receive chemo and radiation soon. It was wrong for the presidential candidates to use this issue as an example of governmental bureaucracy at its worst. The FDA is a much maligned agency, but it is working in the interest of the public. It is also trying to save Thomas' life.

Lora J. Mackel is a history junior. She can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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