R.I.P., Seán Ó’Laighin

This will be an uncharacteristically short (for Orac) post.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the sad story of a young man from Ireland named Seán Ó’Laighin diagnosed with an inoperable brainstem glioma at age 19. Even more sadly, this young man heard about the Burzynski Clinic in Houston and believed the claims of its founder, Stanislaw Burzynski, that being treated with antineoplastons would provide him with a much greater chance of survival than anything conventional medicine had to offer. As has been the case for so many patients of Stanislaw Burzynski, Seán and his family started fundraising, and they were quite successful at it, raising over €120,000 to send Seán to the Burzynski Clinic. His trials and tribulations were chronicled in a special that aired on Irish television in late December, Tar éis na Trialach (“After the Trial”), which was a moving personal portrait of Seán’s battle with his deadly disease. Particularly memorable were the scenes of Seán sitting in his wheelchair at at the hurling pitch watching his former teammates practice, vowing to be able to play again. Before his diagnosis, he had been a strapping, athletic young man and a talented hurler.

Tragically, Seán will never again rejoin his teammates on the hurling pitch. I’ve learned from trustworthy sources that last night he passed away in the presence of his family. This seems to be confirmed by a perusal of his Facebook page, where there are multiple expressions of grief and condolences posted to his wall. It’s been approximately two years since his diagnosis, at the outer range of what the doctors predicted his expected survival to be.

Brainstem gliomas like the one that took the life of a promising young man like Seán O’Laighin are horrible, horrible tumors, and it’s true that modern medicine doesn’t have much to offer. However, Burzynski has even less to offer and lots of potential harm to cause. Propagandists like Eric Merola and Suzanne Somers, whose movies and books tell them that Burzynski is the only hope, that he’s “curing cancer” that conventional doctors can’t cure and are being persecuted by the medical profession for it because, apparently, the government, big pharma, oncologists, and surgeons prefer money to saving lives. Families drain their bank accounts and go into incredible fundraising frenzies because they believe that it’s the only way they can afford what Burzynski offers. However, propaganda all over the Internet tells them that Burzynski is the only one who can save their loved ones; so they gladly pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Euros, pounds, or whatever currency is used in their home country to make their way to Houston. They then come home and endure nearly 24 hours a day of infusions of salt-rich antineoplaston mixtures, with the potential for serious complications. From what I’ve learned, I note that if they qualify for one of Burzynski’s dubious clinical trials, they get antineoplastons, paying exorbitant “case management” fees while Burzynski represents them as getting the antineoplastons for free. If they don’t qualify, they are put on Burzynski’s “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy,” an incompetently administered, simplistic, “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to mixing and matching targeted therapeutics, along with sodium phenylbutyrate, along with chemotherapy.

As I’ve said time and time again. I don’t blame people like Seán for listening to Burzynski’s blandishments. I’m not even sure that, before I knew what I know now about Burzynski, I wouldn’t have been tempted to go to his Clinic had I been unfortunate to find myself battling an inoperable brain tumor like the one that killed Seán. People want to live, and conventional medicine, constrained by science and the truth, has no choice but to tell them that it can’t give them what they want most of all: A long life in which they die of old age, or at least something other than their cancer. Burzynski, under no such constraints, can give them hope that they might live, even if it is a false hope. Seán’s passing was, alas, inevitable, but that doesn’t absolve Burzynski for, in my opinion, leading him on with false hope and abusing the clinical trials process to do it, nor does it absolve a man like Eric Merola from being Burzynski’s propagandist-in-chief. While it’s apparently true that Merola has a penchant for conspiracy theories and the dubious that dates back to long before he made his first movie about Burzynski, making conspiracy mongering movies like Zeitgeist: The Movie with his brother are over-the-top diversions into the world of nonsense like the “9/11 Truth” movement and One World Government conspiracy theories mixed with garbled, sloppy points about the origins of Christianity. Merola’s Burzynski movies are advertorials, infomercials designed to lure patients into the maw of the Burzynski machine.

Seán Ó’Laighin didn’t deserve what happened to him. Unfortunately, through a combination of hype, false hope, and the extraction of large sums of money Burzynski made a fate that was more than awful enough even worse.