U.K. doctor Richard Smith is being blasted today for a blog post in which he says cancer is the "best" way to die and we’re wasting billions of dollars trying to cure it.
Smith’s comments were made in response to deceased filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s words about his fear of being overmedicated during his last days. Bunuel died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 83.
In Smith’s eyes, curing cancer is a waste of time because it means people will die from more unpleasant diseases later in life.
“The long, slow death from dementia may be the most awful as you are slowly erased, but then again when death comes it may be just a light kiss,” he reasons. “Death from organ failure – respiratory, cardiac, or kidney – will have you far too much in hospital and in the hands of doctors.”
Here’s where the controversy starts.
“So death from cancer is the best,” he writes. “... You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favorite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.
“This is, I recognize, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.”
Immediately, people started bashing Smith for his views. Peter Johnson, Cancer Research U.K.’s chief clinician, pointed out one obvious flaw in Smith’s logic: cancer kills thousands of young people too.
“Of course we are all going to die, but cancer takes far too many people far too young,” Johnson says. “It’s only by being ambitious in our research that we can give people a measure of choice, and the more we know about cancer the more we can give people options. My patients are very clear about when they do and when they don’t want treatment, and they would much prefer me to be ambitious than nihilistic.”
Dr. Mick Peake, clinical lead of the U.K.’s National Cancer Intelligence Network, chimed in with similar sentiments.
“I’m not sure, from a philosophical point of view, why Dr. Smith feels cancer is any different from other diseases, for many of which medical science has discovered effective treatments,” he says. “If he had been blogging a hundred years ago, would he have said tuberculosis was a ‘preferred’ death and berated those ‘overambitious TB doctors’?
“Childhood leukemia is an excellent example of where slow, systematic research and clinical trials over many years have resulted in the large majority of children who develop leukaemia now living normal or near-normal lives. Overambitious oncologists certainly played a major role in that and many other success stories.”