Laetrile: Individual Choice for Cancer Patients


Whether it is a cure for cancer or simply another false hope, laetrile has caused great debate in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration(FDA) has banned laetrile from interstate commerce, effectively preventing cancer patients from obtaining the drug. While a majority of states have similar intrastate prohibitions on the use of laetrile, as of September, 1978, seventeen states allow its use subject to substantial regulation. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) endorse prohibitions on laetrile’s use as valid public health measures. On the other hand, politically conservative groups and individual cancer patients, their families and doctors, support laetrile and advocate freedom of choice in making medical decisions. This lack of consensus among members of the medical and legal communities leaves the cancer patient in a state of medical and legal limbo. In July 1977, these issues were presented before the Senate Subcommittee onHealth and Scientific Research at a hearing to evaluate the FDA ban.

In an effort to determine whether anti-laetrile legislation is constitutional, this Note compares the cancer patient’s right to choose laetrile with the state’s interest in limiting that right. The first section traces the medical and legal history of laetrile in the United States. Next, the Note provides a constitutional framework for analyzing important individual rights and assessing when the government can infringe on these rights. The last section explores the right, if any, to choose laetrile and advocates regulated use by cancer patients who are terminally ill or have no dependents.

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