Whatever the judgment of the courts in the case of biologist Gaston Naessens, the affair cannot but raise fundamental issues about health care that ultimately society itself must resolve. Is it reasonable that the medical establishment continues to exercise a monopoly in the field of health care?
Ed Bantey, columnist,
The Montréal Gazette, 2 July 1989
Some of the deeper, and broader, issues behind the trial, as brought out by the two McGill University radio interviews, were concisely summed up, and bolstered, on 2 July 1989, when The Gazette, Montréal’s leading English-language newspaper, ran one of the many Beau Dimanche (Beautiful Sunday) columns written by Ed Bantey, a veteran commentator on important social issues. Far from pulling any punches, the article’s title, both a challenge and an accusation, was as direct as a prize fighter’s roundhouse right to the jaw: “It’s Time to Look at the Medical Establishment’s Monopoly.”
Bantey asked many pertinent and probing questions, among them: “Should we give orthodox medicine carte blanche to block recourse to alternative therapies that offer even limited promise?” “Given its inflexibly adamant stand against women’s pleas to allow midwives, rather than male obstetricians, to birth their babies,” the Gazette columnist continued, “it is obvious that vested interests, who view their privileges as threatened, are mainly concerned to resist any change in the status quo.”
All of Bantey’s declarative and interrogative statements were brought into sharp focus when, on 27 June, the demonstrators, some of the “naive imbeciles” to whom Roy had referred and their friends and relatives, trooped downhill from the courthouse to the Wellington Hôtel, where a newly formed “Committee for the Defense of Gaston Naessens” hosted its first press conference.
The event opened with committee president Ralph (Raoul) Ireland outlining what would be presented. A native Québecer, fluent in French and English, Ireland, no braggart, did not make known his own interesting background. Great grandson of James Redmond, founder of the Irish Republican Army (IRA); son of a distinguished Canadian engineer; one of the “unofficial,” but actual, founders of the world-known Greenpeace movement that fights for causes as disparate as the rights of rivers to be free of pollution and the right of dolphins and whales to be free of massacre by humans; speaker of the Cant (Irish Gypsy) language—Ralph Ireland, in early 1989, raised money and opened Canada’s only quartz crystal mine in Bonsecours, a spot on the road a little over thirty kilometers northwest of Sherbrooke.
Explaining to the press that some dozen former cancer patients, treated by Naessens after their doctors had given them little or no hope of recovery, would tell their stories, Ireland added, “Everything they say can be meticulously documented by their medical records.”
For two hours, the patients, young and old, offered their stories to the assembled representatives of the press, radio, and television. Among the most poignant was that of sixty-four-year-old Roland Caty, who, while in charge of the construction of a new university in the tiny African country of Rwanda, was diagnosed as having an adenosarcoma—a particularly lethal tumor that develops rapidly— in his prostate. After his doctors advised him to have all of his sexual organs ablated, Caty, knowing that so horrible an operation would be unlikely to preserve what was left of his body, refused the dictum. His surgeon, bluntly and coldly, told him he was “crazy” and that, without such an operation, he would be dead within three months.
“Well, I knew damn well that, if I submitted to that butchery,” Caty told the press conference, “I wouldn’t last much longer than three months! I was fortunate to know Gaston Naessens, learn of his 714-X treatment, and become one of the first, if not the first, to take it. Because I had to go back to my job in Africa, I also learned how to make the injections myself, into the lymph node in my groin. And here I am testifying to you eleven years after I got well!”
Caty’s testimony was followed by that of Belgian-born JeanHubert Eggerman, who had had an operation for intestinal cancer only to find the affliction had metastasized into his liver. “I began the Naessens treatments on February 14th of this year ,” he declared, “and now I feel fine. Before that, I was exposed to chemotherapy, even though the doctors who prescribed it gave me no hope of cure whatsoever. The ‘chemo’ made me sick as a dog! I could go into all the gory details of it, but I won’t. I told my wife, ‘I just can’t stand it anymore! Let things take their course!’ I decided to quit . . . to give up . . . to die! Then I was introduced to Naessens.” Eggerman and other witnesses described how they had been harassed by undercover investigative agents employed by the Medical Corporation, who had invaded their privacy either by incessantly telephoning to try to pry information out of them, or actually invading their homes, without search warrants, to rifle through desk drawers and closets in search of Naessens’s vials of 714-X and other evidence. “How come this kind of harassment is permitted and condoned?” Eggerman was almost shouting. “How the hell did these ‘goons’ get my name or my confidential medical file? We’re not living in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany here! We’re in Canada! When the hell is all this going to stop? When am I and the rest of us going to win the right to be treated as we see fit?” All of which, like Ed Bantey’s article, pretty much got to the very heart of the true nature of what the “Naessens Affair,” as it had come to be called, was all about.
Another particularly moving affidavit was that of Raoul Poissant, whose tongue and larynx had been surgically excised. Left to die by his doctors, he was introduced by friends to Naessens and recovered after 714-X treatment. Poissant was forced to write his testimony onto a legal pad while another younger recovered cancer patient read it aloud word for word as the ink was pouring from his pen.
Next on the microphone was Bernard Baril, a thirty-three-yearold Québec-born restaurant and catering consultant, who, when working in Paris, had been tested positive for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the prime vector in AIDS. Almost breaking down, Baril described how, after cancerous growths began to fill his mouth and attack his palate, doctors at the Montréal General Hospital had told him he was so far gone as to not be worth treating.
Almost unable to take nourishment, Baril lay in his bed, his weight declining from 155 to 115 pounds, until, in April 1988, a friend introduced him to Naessens. Within three months, Baril began witnessing the miraculous disappearance of his lesions. Choking back a sob, he told the press conference, “Look at me! I now weigh 170 pounds! I feel entirely fit! Don’t I look in the pink of health?”
It was only in the summer of 1990 that the full facts taken from the dossier of Bernard Baril were finally made available. They reveal that this AIDS-afflicted patient had, on 3 March 1988, been diagnosed as having a cancerous growth, Karposi’s sarcoma, on his palate, together with cancerous invasions of his lymphatic system. A biopsy consisting of a piece of tissue measuring 1 x 1 x 0.2 cm. was submitted in toto, meaning that the whole of a cancerous growth was cut out. Another piece of tissue measuring 0.5 x 0.2 x 0.3 cm. was also submitted in toto. The tumor received a IV-D, or “extremely advanced,” classification.
Baril refused all conventional treatment. When he finally began 714-X treatment, his weight had dropped from a normal 165 pounds to 115 pounds! This treatment began on 3 June 1988. Three days later, the tumor on the palate had reappeared and, by 22 June,
measured 0.8 x 0.2 x 0.3 cm. Baril was a little discouraged.
But, by 11 July, he began to become encouraged when the tumor, beginning to decrease in size, measured 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.3 cm. During the next six months, it completely disappeared. On 29 March 1990, a revaluation by Dr. Tyler, the same physician who had first seen Baril, indicated that “there was no tumor present but only a discolored zone measuring 1.0 x 0.5 cm. A blood test revealed that Baril’s blood parameters were normal.” In the summer of 1990, Baril was, to quote him, “at the top of his form,” and had no symptoms of cancer whatsoever.
After the press conference disbanded at the Wellington, a crowd, now swelled to more than two hundred people, gathered in the same Hôtel’s “Flamingo Room,” a nightclub with a raised dancing floor that had suddenly become the site of a daytime reception and rally.
Defense Committee President Ireland rose again to consolidate the fighting spirit of the demonstrators. “We count on every one of you to help in presenting the truth about an avatar of medicine, true medicine,” his voice boomed out in Québec-accented French. “It’s doers, not thinkers, who really accomplish something in life, and get things to change. Naessens is one of those doers! So what about the rest of us? As for me, I am not afraid to speak out against the injustice of medical monopoly. We’re supposed to be living in a free country and it’s to be hoped that our beloved Canada will remain free from every point of view, that no gates into freedom’s city, medical or otherwise, will ever be locked in our nation!”
Because the 27 June court hearing had merely postponed any judicial opinion as to the furtherance of Naessens’s trial date until 14 July, when that date arrived a second demonstration and press conference were held in Sherbrooke.
This time, as reported by veteran court reporter Jacques Lemoine, in a Sherbrooke Tribune front-page story, it appeared that Naessens was garnering impressive judicial, medical, and international support in his battle against the Québec Medical Corporation.
In front of a throng of more than two hundred people, Naessens’s attorney, Conrad Chapdelaine, a diminutive man of no more than five feet six inches in height, but with a visage that calmly suggested a personage of great inner stature, took the microphone to announce that, during the brief court session, the presiding judge had ruled that previous strictures imposed on Naessens would be lifted, to allow him to regain the same freedom of action he had enjoyed before charges had been brought against him. “This represents a real victory,” Chapdelaine cheered his audience of Naessens’s supporters, but he also cautioned that the really important, and crucial, battle would be trial before a jury to take place some time in late October or early November.
Seated under klieg lights at the press conference was a panel of notables who, one by one, asserted that Naessens, far from being a know-nothing or a quack, was a first-rank, if hardly known, pioneer of brand new medical research.
Among them was Florianne Piers, M.D., a Belgian, who said she had taken the time to come over to the rally because she had, over a four-month period, begun to treat seven cancer patients with Naessens’s 714-X. “The product prolonged the lives, and eased the deaths, of two terminally afflicted patients,” announced Piers, “and has allowed the other five, who came to me with seriously advanced cancerous states, to see every one of their symptoms disappear and to take up their lives as if they had never incurred the disease.” Asked whether Belgian medical authorities might not impose sanctions against her for using an “unapproved” medicinal, such as revoking her hospital privileges, Piers boldly answered that, if that turned out to be the case, she would treat her patients at home.
Next to take the microphone on Naessens’s behalf was a softspoken general practitioner, Raymond Keith Brown, M.D., from New York City, where, for some time, he had worked on problems of cancer research at the world-famous Sloan-Kettering Institute. Brown was author of a book entitled AIDS, Cancer and the Medical Establishment (New York: Robert Speller, 1986), the first publication to print micrographs of what Naessens had discovered.
In a soft Virginian drawl, Brown declared that he was truly convinced that Naessens, whose work he had been following since 1975, was a genius. He specifically referred to the case of one of his own patients, whom he had most successfully treated with 714-X for a cancer of the pancreas that had proved unamenable to any other form of treatment. Though it should not be thought of as a “panacea,” Brown added, 714-X certainly deserved to take its place in the armory of weapons available to official medicine.
As trenchant as were Brown’s supportive words, it was left to Walter Clifford, who, before founding his own research firm in Colorado Springs, Colorado, had worked for many years as a bacteriological expert for the U.S. Army, to tell the central, hidden, and utter truth about what was really transpiring behind the scenes in Naessens’s struggle with the “Medical College.” Commenting on the general unwillingness of the mainstream medical industry to support alternative research, Clifford courageously averred: “Sad as it is, my scientific colleagues and I have found to our bitter dismay that, if you don’t ‘toe the company line,’ medical pundits don’t even want to know about your discoveries, whatever they might be!” As the patients’ press conference was going on, Naessens was also gaining support of a different kind. Among many letters in Naessens’s defense that were pouring in to the Route de l’Église office of Gil Rémillard, Québec’s minister of justice, was one signed by Renaud Vignal, who, before his 1987 appointment as French ambassador to the Seychelles, had served for three years as his country’s consul general in Québec. Vignal wrote that he had been profoundly shocked to learn that “a man whom my wife, Anne, and I hold in highest esteem,” had been detained and was under criminal investigation.
Vignal explained to Remillard that, in 1984, his wife had undergone an examination to determine why she had not been able to have a baby. To her horror, the exam revealed that she was afflicted with a form of leukemia so lethal that doctors in three countries (Canada, France, and the United States) had given her not more than three to five years to live. Other than “maintenance” chemotherapy, they could recommend no treatment to save her life except bone-marrow grafts for which there was no compatible donor.
Vignal wrote that, in their despair, he and his wife had the luck to meet Naessens. Anne underwent treatment with 714-X by intralymphatic injection. As to the result, the ambassador stated in his letter:
My wife is alive five years after her initial diagnosis and, in spite of the fact that a host of physicians told her she never could have a child—due to protracted and uninterrupted chemotherapy—we have just had a magnificent little healthy son in a birth that, lying outside any “medical” explanation not to be considered a “miracle,” we can only attribute to the gentle administrations of our dear friend, Gaston Naessens.
The Vignalses’ son is named Gaspard, the first three letters of his name intentionally chosen to match the first three letters of Gaston’s.
Supporting Vignal’s letter was another from Gaston Mialaret, professor of education at the Université de Caen, in Normandy, who had also taught at the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières, served as director for international education at UNESCO in Geneva, Switzerland, and been awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Sherbrooke (Québec), Ghent (Belgium), and Lisbon (Portugal).
“I have known Gaston Naessens for over twenty years,” wrote Mialaret to Rémillard.
There comes a time when friendship must be publicly expressed, especially when it’s a case of a man’s honor. I know that his research findings are upsetting certain ideas normally accepted in the world of medicine and science. Whether he is right or not, scientifically speaking, he is an unquestionably honest man whose only aim is to help and cure the ills of humanity.
My conscience cannot accept, without revulsion, that he be treated as a swindler and a charlatan: an affirmation that dishonors those who make it and reveals their hatred or lack of objectivity. I have confidence in your country’s justice and am therefore convinced that not alone the letter, but the spirit, of its laws will take into account the many positive aspects of Naessens’s work.
Finally, Gaston Naessens himself addressed the assembly. His gray jacket bedecked with a spray of white carnations, he spoke with quiet confidence and humility, which all who have interacted with him have come, like Ambassador Vignal, to recognize as two of his chief character traits. “As I go over in my mind the events of the last forty years,” he told his loyal supporters, “I believe I can, without boast-fulness, and looking you all straight in the eye, say: mission accomplished.” Even with the difficult legal battles still to come, Naessens expressed no regrets: ‘Tor if there were in this room, or anywhere, a single patient whose life was extended for one, two, five, or ten years due to my treatment,” he concluded, “I would be prepared to go on the long and difficult trek I have made all over again.”