Monday, June 22, 2009

Alternative Cancer Care in Mexico

According to CNN, there are many cancer patients escaping to oasis-type of cancer centers in Mexico to receive alternative care for their illness. To many, the idea of receiving alternative medicine for cancer may sound absurd. It may be OK to take some herbs and vitamins for benign conditions such as headaches and arthritis. But for cancer? Can alternative therapies like herbs, vitamins, meditation, and relaxation cure malignant tumors? If they do, are we simply seeing cases of spontaneous regression where the body destroys cancer by sensing that something is wrong?

The idea of complementary medicine for cancer has been a really controversial topic lately because of the story of Danny Hauser, a 13-yr-old cancer patient who is receiving chemotherapy because of a court order. He's also receiving alternative medicine, including acupuncture, vitamins, and minerals (among others). Does he have the right to choose what type of cancer care he wants? This gets into the ethics of autonomy, but it gets complicated because Danny is not an adult. Hence, in the world of medical ethics, he doesn't have the same type of autonomy as an adult. It may not sound fair, but the world of ethics doesn't always revolve around fairness (depending on your point of view).

So, if an adult chooses to forego Western medicine for cancer and decides to receive alternative care in Mexico, that's OK (from an ethics standpoint). However, if a child chooses to forego Western medicine for life-threatening cancer, that's when we have some serious ethical issues. That's where the ethics committees get involved and pulls in the judicial system when needed. How do we really know what the child wants? What if the child is only 2 or 3 years old? Do parents have the right to determine what is best for the child? At what age should a child have autonomy over medical treatment decisions?

Maybe you don't like to think about any of these complex ethical issues. If you're an oncologist looking for some lucrative opportunities in a resort-like (think all-year vacation) setting, then take a look at the Oasis of Hope Hospital in Tijuana.

To read the CNN piece about alternative cancer care in Mexico, click here. Image source: CNN

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