The purpose of this blog is purely educational. It does not advise any reader to forgo medical treatment for any condition. It describes methods that have not yet been proven effective through widespread scientific testing. Readers who are concerned about their health are advised to contact their physician.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Further commentary on Bill Bengston's Chasing the Cure

Dr. Bengston and Ms. Fraser call their book Chasing the Cure a memoir. But it also contains a teaching supplement which has excited some chatter among publicists on the web. Here are some examples:

The book is about Bengston's ability to cure various forms of cancer and purports 'to pass on his healing ability to others'. (Quill & Quire Industry News June 2009)

The content is not only detailing the magical effect of this therapy, but also to provide the reader with a self-learning method, because the doctor emphasized that this treatment does not need to have special expertise or skills can be achieved. (Chinese literary agency website, translation by Google)

These statements rest on four astonishing mouse experiments performed by Dr. Bengston in the 1970s in which 29 out of 33 mice (87.9%) remitted from a normally fatal breast cancer as a result of an energy healing method which Dr. Bengston helped develop apprenticing with a New York psychic. In the first experiment Dr. Bengston cured five out of five mice. In three experiments that followed skeptical volunteers taught by Dr. Bengston appeared also to be able to cure cancerous mice (with the exception of three mice which died).

Dr. Bengston at first believed that these results meant that his method was teachable. But later he expressed caution about drawing the conclusion that he had shown unequivocally that the skeptical volunteers had been taught to heal. He recognizes the possibility that he himself might have inadvertently cured the mice by proxy or somehow contributed to their cure -- which would not be a far-fetched notion given that he can demonstrably heal mice from hundreds of miles away, and that in his experiments even the on-site controls, which are meant to die, recover to full life-span cures, due to an intriguing phenomenon Dr. Bengston calls "resonance".

Looking at the experiments a scientist might say that there is a "suggestion that the method is teachable", and know that "suggestion" does not mean "certainty". But everyday folks (including publicists) all too easily seem jump to the conclusion that if Dr. Bengston could apparenly teach skeptical, inexperienced volunteers to cure cancer in mice, then pretty much anyone could learn to use his method to easily cure cancer in people. This leap of logic at the moment is premature.

My solution would be to say that the experimental results appear to have been replicated using skeptical volunteers, but that further study is needed to verify and understand those results. I would be concerned about drowning the fledgling possibilities of Dr. Bengston's promising method in overwhelming expectations of near-100% success rates.

A personal postscript

In my own experience (= 6 Bengston workshops + 3 follow-up "alumni" events) there is what appears to be a partial transmission of ability, which in some cases has led to partial results such as apparent and sometimes significant anomalies in the progression of cancer and even a case of temporary remission that was termed a "miracle" by the patient's own physician. We were not able to reproduce with people the notable success rates achieved with mice in Dr. Bengston's experiments, but we did see results that would justify using the method to improve and extend the life of cancer sufferers.

Workshops participants I spoke to, particularly reiki practitioners, said that they experienced a noticeable increase in their healing ability. In my own experience this increased ability peaked right after the workshop and then seemed to trail off somewhat with the passage of time, while still remaining higher than it had been before. How lasting the effect is would be a good area for research. For instance, would the students who apparently healed the mice in Dr. Bengston's experiments have been able to cure another batch a few months later, without any further involvement from Dr. Bengston? On the whole I believe that if Dr. Bengston were to spend some time researching the effects of his teaching methodology on the brainwave activity of his students, success rates could be improved.

Dr. Bengston says he "juices up" the participants in his workshops, which to my mind seems comparable to Reiki attunements and Buddhist transmissions. It is not clear how much of the healing ability gained in his workshops is due to the "juicing" and how much is due to the technique he teaches. I would see that as another fruitful area for research. Is the technique effective in and of itself, or does it simply act as an "anchor" (in the NLP sense) to allow the student to access memory of the workshop experience? Could someone other than Dr. Bengston teach the technique and achieve an increase in the healing ability of students? Could students learn the technique through written instructions alone and demonstrate increased healing ability? All these questions await answers.

Again based on my experience I would say that the single-weekend workshop format has ultimately proven to be not quite sufficient. In another location Dr. Bengston employed a 4-week format similar to the 6-week format that he had used to teach the skeptical volunteers in his experiments, but I do not know with what results. Since Dr. Bengston spent years apprenticing with the New York psychic from whom he learned to heal, in my opinion it might be worthwhile for him to take his cues from the likes of the Barbara Brennan school and develop an intensive, long-term energy-healing program to duplicate his own experience for the benefit of students. In the absence of such a program the workshops remain a good introduction to the method, but in my opinion more is needed.

I remain awe-struck by the healing ability that Dr. Bengston has shown in ten experiments in five different labs, producing near-100% rates of full-life-span cure in mice injected with a cancer that is normally 100% fatal. It would be an incomparable gift to be able to extend these success rates to human cancers on a large scale, and an even greater gift to put this ability into the hands of others.

Friday, February 5, 2010

William Bengston, Chasing the Cure: A commentary

William Bengston's book Chasing the Cure, co-written with Canadian author Sylvia Fraser, is due to hit bookstores next month. The Canadian publisher of the book has chosen to give it the eye-catching subtitle An Effective Alternative for Treating Cancer and Other Diseases, which is a change from an earlier subtitle, A Passionate Quest to Prove that Hands-On Healing Can Cure Cancer and Other Diseases.

Is the book about An Effective Alternative for Treating Cancer and Other Diseases? Certainly (and astonishingly so), if you are a mouse injected with mammary adenocarcinoma (H2712; host strain C3H/HeJ from Jackson Labs) in one of Dr. Bengston's experiments. If you are that mouse, your chances of full life-span remission are nearly one hundred per cent, and you would be in a small but select group, because the mice injected with this cancer are usually doomed to certain death. But if you are a human being looking at a recent cancer diagnosis, it's early days yet: the method has not been tested on people.

While the remission of these mice is of huge and unprecedented significance for cancer research, a treatment cannot be called an effective alternative to the current medical model, until it has shown reliability and replicability in humans. In other words it has to be available to more than a few selected cancer patients, and it has to be proven effective in the hands of more than one or two individual practitioners. Human remissions need to be documented in dozens, if not hundreds, of cases (= reliability), treated not only by Dr. Bengston himself, but also independently by others who have learned his method (= replicability).

Further, scientific minds would want to see controlled studies done in human populations, which may not even be ethically possible, given that participating cancer patients would be required to receive no conventional medical treatment for the study's duration.

I note that a pharmaceutical company would not be allowed to market a drug it has only tested on mice as an "effective alternative for treating cancer" no matter how successful its animal testing has been.

To be fully accurate, the subtitle would have to say An Effective Alternative for Treating Cancer in Mice and a Potentially Effective Alternative for Treating Cancer in People because in the Absence of Documented Human Studies We Can't Really Say So for Sure. Or better yet, since that would clearly take up most of the cover, why not simply add a question mark to the existing title?

The promise of what Dr. Bengston has to offer is that if his ability to affect cancer could be taught, then a relatively easy, inexpensive and side-effect free form of cancer treatment would be in the hands of the many, creating a grass-roots medical revolution. Many years ago, after a series of experiments involving mice and skeptical volunteers, Dr. Bengston believed that he had achieved just that. But since then, he has said in talks and papers that he has not proven to his own satisfaction that he met all the criteria to show that he had indeed taught the volunteers to heal. (See now part two of his talk "Healing and the Mainstream" on Youtube.)

And when it comes to healing people of cancer, we do not yet know with what effectiveness Dr. Bengston's ability can be taught or transferred. The book ends without delving into what happened when in a two-year "sociological experiment" Dr. Bengston tried to teach people to apply his method not to mice but to humans. I was present for the first year and a half of that experiment. Suffice to say that there were questions and practical challenges, as well as what Dr. Bengston would call "interesting" results, including a temporary remission termed "a miracle" by the patient's own physician.

In my opinion there still remains a good deal of work to be done to tease out the full possibilities of this healing method, but Dr. Bengston, with his scientific mindset and his experiments, is uniquely positioned to be able to do just that. Let's hope he takes up the challenge.

Postscript The title of the American edition will be The Energy Cure: One Man's Quest to Unravel the Mystery of Hands-On Healing. That subtitle makes more sense to me, but the word "cure" in the title is open to the same questions and caveats as "effective alternative treatment" would be.

PostscriptThe German edition is now out under the title Heilen aus dem Nichts, or Healing from Nowhere. There is no mention of cancer in the German promotional material on, but the method is said to be particularly effective for serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's and arthritis. This is odd, given that the heart of the book is to be found in Dr. Bengston's experiments with cancer in mice, and that in his introduction Dr. Bengston says that with chronic diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and arthritis he is only able to alleviate symptoms up to about 50 per cent -- and heart disease is not even mentioned.