The Ralph Moss Story
by Ralph Moss
Within three years, I had risen to the position of Assistant Director of Public Affairs at the Hospital. At the time, I was 34 years old, married to my high-school sweetheart, and we had a daughter and son, then 9 and 7 years old. We had dreams of buying a house and saving for the kids' education, so you can imagine how thrilled we were when I was promoted, with a huge raise, glowing feedback from my bosses, and was told that perks of the job would eventually include reduced tuition for the kids at New York University. Needless to say, we all were really counting on my "bright future" at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. But something soon happened that changed the course of my life forever.
A big part of my job as Assistant Director of Public Affairs was to write press releases for the media about cancer news and to write the in-hospital newsletter. I also handled calls from the press and public about cancer issues. So I was just doing a normal day's work - or so I thought-when I began interviewing an esteemed scientist at the Hospital for a newsletter article I was working on. It turned out that the scientist, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, had repeatedly gotten positive results shrinking tumors in mice studies with a natural substance called amygdalin (You may have heard of it as "laetrile".) Excitedly (and naively!) I told my "discovery" of Sugiura's work to the Public Affairs Director and other superiors, and laid out my plans for an article about it. Then I got the shock of my life.
They insisted that I stop working on this story immediately and never pick it up again. Why? They said that Dr. Sugiura's work was invalid and totally meaningless. But I had seen the results with my own eyes! And I knew Dr. Sugiura was a true scientist and an ethical person. Then my bosses gave me the order that I'll never forget: They told me to lie. Instead of the story I had been planning to write, they ordered me to write an article and press releases for all the major news stations emphatically stating that all amygdalin studies were negative and that the substance was worthless for cancer treatment. I protested and tried to reason with them, but it fell on deaf ears.
I will never forget how I felt on the subway ride home that day. My head was spinning with a mixture of strong feelings- confusion, shock, disappointment, fear for my own livelihood and my family's future, and behind it all, an intense need to know why this cover-up was happening. After long talks with my wife and parents (who were stunned, as you can imagine) I decided to put off writing any amygdalin press releases as long as I could while I discreetly looked into the whole thing some more on my own time. Everyone at the office seemed happy just to drop the whole thing, and we got busy with other less controversial projects.
So in the next few months, I was able to do my own investigating to answer the big question I couldn't let go of: Who were these people I worked for and why would they want to suppress positive results in cancer research? My files grew thick as I uncovered more and more fascinating - and disturbing - facts. I had never given any thought to the politics of cancer before. Now I was putting together the pieces as I learned that:
Meanwhile, the public's interest in laetrile refused to go away. A lot of people were going across the border to Mexican clinics to get the stuff and my secretary's phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what Sloan-Kettering thought of its value. I was once again told to give out the news that the studies had all been negative.
At home, I called my family together for a meeting. With their support, I decided I couldn't lie on behalf of the Hospital. In November of 1977, I stood up at a press conference and blew the whistle on Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's suppression of positive results with amygdalin. It felt like jumping off the highest diving board, but I had no doubt I was doing the right thing. I was fired the next day for "failing to carry out his most basic responsibilities" as the Hospital described it to the New York Times. In other words, failing to lie to the American people.
When I tried to pick up my things in my office, I found my files had been padlocked and two armed Hospital guards escorted me from the premises.
Luckily for all of us, I have a very smart wife who all along had been making copies of my research notes and had put a complete extra set of files in a safe place. Those notes turned into my first book, The Cancer Industry, which is still in print (in an updated version) and available in bookstores.
That dramatic day, when I stood up in front of the packed press conference and told the truth, was the beginning of a journey I never could have predicted. I was launched on a mission that I'm still on today - helping cancer patients find the truth about the best cancer treatments.
Well, we weren't able to buy a home until years later, the kids went to colleges on scholarships and loans, and my wife took on a demanding full-time job to help us get by. But in retrospect, my experiences as an insider in "the cancer industry" were among the best things ever to happen to me. My values were put to the test and I had to really examine what was important in my life. It is because of this difficult experience at Sloan-Kettering that I found a truly meaningful direction for my professional life, rather than just climbing Sloan-Kettering's career ladder and losing my soul in the process."
Ralph Moss, author