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Benefits of Radiation Therapy and Ethics

GOURLEY: Now, one thing confuses me terribly about all this, and I'm not a scientist and I'm new on this: You, yourself, said that [there are] medical benefits in certain cases and certain specific cancers and that sort of thing. How does the line fall between where it can be therapeutic, [and] where it's harmful?
GOFMAN: Line falls at one point. I have no difficulty with radiation therapy being beneficial in certain situations. I have no difficulty with diagnostic radiation, finding something important out [from] a diagnosis that can [save] a person's life.
GOURLEY: Which diagnosis are you speaking of here?
GOFMAN: You can talk about the possibility of pneumonia that's not appreciated or some mass in the abdomen or something like a cardiac lesion. I have never in my life said people should not have an x ray. I have never argued against radiation therapy. I talked to you earlier about some places where I participated in radiation therapy and I know people were benefited.
GOFMAN: That is a world apart from what your problem is in this whole thing. Where I stand on it is, you voluntarily, you accept a risk for a benefit to you or your child or your mother or father if you discussed it with them. That's not what I'm talking about. It's when somebody says you shall be allowed to get x units of radiation as a member of the public without any benefit to you: "Society will benefit."

That's immoral, it's illegal, and it's being done every day. I just think it's just illegal and it's a violation of the Declaration of Independence. It's a violation of Constitutional rights and none of the medical ethicists are saying a goddamn thing about. I'm very critical of medical ethicists for that.

I've written some things down for you on the fact as a polluter or potential polluter, and radiation is one pollutant. If you say that your pollutant is safe when you know it is unsafe someone can get hurt, and thereby you try to get your pollution accepted at some level, you are guilty of random premeditated murder. That's a crime. If you say you don't know whether it's safe, then you are guilty of a different crime, that's a Nuremberg crime, experimenting on people. So as a polluter you've got to come clean. There is no basis for saying it's safe when you know it isn't. That's a lie and a fraud and a crime.
GOURLEY: Now, what about some of these spas and stuff?
GOFMAN: There are spas where you can go breathe radon and you can go get yourself a good case of lung cancer. There are many people who believe in them and go to them. Stopping people from being nutty is not my function in life.
GOURLEY: So you don't think there's a therapeutic benefit there?
GOFMAN: There may be; I don't think so. Let me put it this way. I was telling you a little earlier about these doctors writing papers [stating that they] treated 500 cases with 92 percent success. Now people say that disease never existed! This thymus thing is not believed to have existed. I can pull out paper after paper of leading institutions where doctors are saying I had success in one hundred to five thousand patients. What the hell are they talking about? Just like your people who go to spas, I think.

So, I don't know what to say about it other than-did you ever see David Copperfield, the illusionist who could make a train disappear? Well, I think there are a lot of David Copperfields around in the world having illusions.

But my dividing line in answering your questions is: What you do [to] yourself is your business. You chose to take a risk; that's okay with me. You should be told the truth about what the risk is. I don't think it would be fair of me to tell you, "Hey, look, Karoline, you go ahead and have this radiation treatment, it will never hurt anybody." That's false; that's terrible on my part. But if I tell you what the hazard is, or we don't know the hazard-there may be no harm, there may be. If you then want to do it, I don't believe it's anybody's business.

The only place where I deviate from that is that if you harm yourself and then have children and can pass that harm onto your children; that's unfair. I don't have any difficulty with people doing hazardous things. There are, after all, astronauts. Nobody's going [to] say being an astronaut is a safe job. Yet, they do it, and I think that's their privilege.

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