A legal cure

Former Sacramento police Detective Pete Riolo did not mince words in February 1997 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “I was stunned,” he told SN&R in a cover story written two years ago. “I could hardly find my way out the door.”

Riolo, then 72, was told he had three years to live, but he wasn’t buying it. He rejected the death sentence, refused conventional cancer treatment and embraced alternative therapies, despite the fact that such treatment is outlawed in the state of California. He traveled to Reno and Mexico for alternative care, and it worked for him. Riolo was given a clean bill of health by Western medical standards, and, last week, he told SN&R that he’s in good health today … and utterly cancer-free.

Riolo and other cancer survivors will testify next week in support of two bills—Assembly Bill 2393 (by Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta) and Senate Bill 1691 (by Senator John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose). Both are written, basically, to allow doctors in California to legally prescribe alternative medicine (such as the infusion of immune-system-enhancing vitamins and supplements, homeopathy, dietary changes and acupuncture) in place of, or in combination with, conventional treatments for cancer. California’s physicians now risk losing their licenses if they prescribe anything but the conventional “big three” in cancer treatment, i.e. surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Every Californian knows someone who has been diagnosed with, suffered from or possibly even died of cancer. Most of us know people who have gone through the big three treatment protocols and, indeed, medical science continues to indicate that is the best way to treat cancer.

But criminalizing physicians who want to practice alternatives—either solely or in a blend with traditional treatments—clearly is out of step with changing attitudes in the field of medicine in which unconventional methods are growing in acceptance. Indeed, 118 of the country’s 120 medical schools now offer courses in alternative therapies.

The California law also is clearly out of step with public views on the subject, especially when studies indicate that half of the Americans diagnosed with cancer each year already seek a combination of conventional and alternative therapies.

So far, the California Medical Board and the California Medical Association report that they will not oppose AB 2393 and SB 1691. Even the pharmaceutical industry says it has no plans to oppose the bills at this time. Only time will tell if these entities will remain neutral on these bills.

Clearly, it is licensed doctors and patients who should be deciding what is the best care for the people who wind up facing the awful news of a cancer diagnosis. The California government should stay out of it by supporting these bills and decriminalizing the practice of alternatives.

Hopefully, one day soon, people like Riolo won’t be made to cross the border out of California to get the kind of cancer care they and their doctors desire, the kind they believe might save their lives.