You probably haven’t heard of a man named Stanislaw Burzynski. He offers a treatment called antineoplaston therapy, which he claims can treat cancer, in a centre called the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas. That’s quite a claim, but the Nobel Prize Committee does not need to convene quite yet, because this treatment has been in non-randomised clinical trials since its discovery by Burzynski some 34 years ago. Moreover, no randomised controlled trials showing the effectiveness of antineoplaston therapy have been published in peer reviewed scientific literature.
I first heard of Burzynski when a friend of mine tweeted about something called “Hope for Laura”, a campaign to raise the money to send this young mother from Kent to the Burzynski Clinic in the hope that they could cure her of her inoperable, terminal brain cancer. The campaign became big news after the well-meaning Rufus Hound tweeted about it.
Because of the campaign, I did a little bit more research into the treatment regime that Laura was hoping embark on and I learned about the lack of scientific evidence for the treatment.
There have been quite a few more campaigns similar to “Hope for Laura” to raise money to send more people to the Burzynski Clinic for the antineoplaston treatment. In one such campaign, Radiohead donated a guitar to raise money for one girl’s treatment.
Constantly, it was pointed out that the treatment was “not available on the NHS” – to many people this might have made it seem potentially wonderful and too expensive for the NHS, but my first reaction was that maybe it just didn’t work. Generally speaking, if something doesn’t work, it’s not provided by the NHS. (I say ‘generally speaking’ as disproven treatments such as homeopathy are still provided, unfortunately)
Eventually, I decided to write a rather scathing blog about Burzynski and the treatment, which you can find here. The thought of someone being promised an effective treatment when in fact, it’s at best unproven disgusts me. The blog went up on August 11th, 2011. A few comments were posted but it soon disappeared into obscurity again. Other friends of mine have written
blogs about the same subject – in particular, Keir Liddle of The 21st Floor and Jennifer Keane, a.k.a ZenBuffy. These particular blogs are excellent and go into a lot more detail about the false hope dilemma.
Orac, of Respectful Insolence, has gone into a lot of detail about Burzynski’s background and the antineoplaston therapy – it’s a blog that I strongly recommend you read.
Then, out of the blue, on the 3rd of November, I received an email from a man called Marc Stephens, claiming to represent the Burzynski Clinic. He was threatening to sue me for libel for my previous blog about the Burzynski Clinic.
Hello Rhys Morgan,
I represent Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, Burzynski Clinic, and Burzynski Research Institute.
It has been brought to our attention that you have content on your website http://thewelshboyo.co.uk/2011/08/the-burzynski-clinic/ and on your Twitter account that is in violation of several state and federal laws.
This is a legal complaint regarding the your multiple twitter account posts, and article you posted online titled “The Burzynski Clinic dated August 28, 2011, by Rhys Morgan”. This correspondence constitutes a demand that you immediately cease and desist in your actions defaming and libeling my clients. Please allow this correspondence to serve as notice to you that you published libelous and defamatory information.
Please be advised that my clients consider the content of your postings to be legally actionable under numerous legal causes of action, including but not limited to: libel, defamation, and tortious interference with business contracts and business relationships.
The information you assert in your postings is factually incorrect and posted with either actual knowledge, or reckless disregard for its falsity, and with the actual and specific malice to injure my client’s business relationships in the community.
I am not sure if you are familiar with Defamation (Libel). If not, I will assist you.
What is Defamation (Libel)
Libel is a published or fixed form of defamation of character; a civil wrong that falsely impugns the reputation or character of a person or entity, opening the target up to public scorn or ridicule. Libel might appear in a magazine, book, newspaper, or in a radio or television broadcast. Signs, billboards or posters can also be mediums for libel. Online libel, or cyber libel takes electronic forms such as email, mailing lists, newsgroups, chat rooms, podcasts, vodcasts and Web pages. Although many citizens do not yet realize it, comments made to chat boards, newsgroups and even mailing lists are all forms of publication. Criticisms of companies or their goods can be a basis for libel charges if the poster misrepresents facts, or fails to qualify his or her post as opinion.
Every comment you made in your article is highly incorrect. I suggest you remove ALL references about my client on the internet in its entirety, and any other defamatory statement about my client immediately, or I will file suit against you.
I am not sure where you obtained your incorrect information, but you will be held liable for your statements. REMOVE ARTICLE IMMEDIATELY.
GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.
9432 Katy Freeway
Houston, Texas 77055
As you may guess, this caused me to panic somewhat. The threat of being sued for libel is not an exciting prospect by any stretch of the imagination, even if you know that your piece is not libellous.
I sent him back this reply:
I am confirming I have read this email.
I am, however, at high school for the rest of today, but I will deal with this situation as soon as possible with the correct action.
I notice you have stated that some tweets are defamatory. I would appreciate you linking to them please so I can deal with them appropriately.
Unfortunately, when he found out that I was in school, his attitude changed.
He didn’t respond to my request that he linked to the allegedly defamatory tweets. His response came about half an hour later, clearly trying to silence me about Burzynski:
Please forward the notice to your parents if you are actually in High School. This is a very serious matter. Although you have a right to freedom of speech, it is against the law to post slanderous or libelous statements. Because your statements have been read by third parties you are now also interfering with my clients business, and you are emotionally effecting Dr. Burzynski’s as well as his cancer patients around the world. Please remove all references about my client, as well as all libelous statements immediately. I have already copied your website and twitter account as
proof of the statements.
Once you remove your libelous statements, you will agree, that you immediately cease and desist from making any further unsupported, defamatory, libelous or harmful statements relating to my clients through any medium, including the Internet.
You are to remove existing statements, and are not to post, host, or make available any libelous, false or defamatory statements against my clients via the Internet, television, radio, print or any other forms of media. You shall not create any new alias, nor use any old alias, to post, host, or make available any statement regarding my client via the Internet, television, radio, print or any other forms of media. You will provide a public apology to Dr. Burzynski and his patients and post it on your websites, and social media sites.
Once removed, I can provide you with the correct information from the National Cancer Institute and several doctors who testified to the effectiveness of Antineoplastons. In addition, my client is FDA approved for Phase 3 clinical trials. You are reading lies and misunderstandings on the internet, which you are still liable for re-posting this information. I appreciate you contacting me to resolve this matter.
I decided at this point to take the post down, not to admit liability or guilt, but so that Mr Stephens and I could hopefully discuss the supposed problems before deciding on an appropriate course of action. In my response, expecting him to know the obligation to follow pre-action protocol, I asked him to tell me the exact words his client,The Burzynski Clinic thought were libellous and why they were libellous.
I am writing this email to inform you that I have taken the post in question down.
However, I state that this is not a confession of liability or acceptance of guilt. This has been taken down until we can agree on an acceptable course of action.
In response, I would like you to tell me exactly which words you think are defamatory and explain why and how they are defamatory. Similarly, I would like you to tell me exactly which tweets are defamatory and why they are defamatory.
I would like this by 6pm GMT on Monday, 7th November.
The next email I received from Mr Stephens seemed rather intimidatory, implying I considered myself “bigger than Google” and that if I did, I would spend life in the court room:
I greatly appreciate you removing the articles and comments.
You are responsible for whatever you post online. You need to spend time understanding defamation laws if you want to start a career as a blogger. You can be sued for “Not Knowing”, its called Negligence. You can not interfere with business relationships and contracts. If you do not understand what you are doing I suggest you stop posting articles. Your “Opinion” can also get you sued. Look up the recent Google case in the UK. Google was sued and lost because their algorithm created “SCAM”, “FRAUD”, etc next to a business owner’s name. We also filed a complaint with Google and they had to remove the wording. If you think you are bigger than Google than enjoy life in the court room. There are many stories online that you can find that tell you the truth about Dr. Burzynski. If you are interested in learning I can guide you to the truth. I’ve watch some of your videos and you are a really smart guy. Use that intelligence in a positive way. Be careful online and good luck.
He seemed to have completely ignored my request to tell me the wording. He also seemed to think he’d managed to silence me, that I’d removed the post forever. However, this was only the 4th of November, one day into the time I’d given him to respond. And so I waited to see if I would receive anything explaining exactly which words he considered libellous and why they were libellous, in the opinion of The Burzynski Clinic. Out of courtesy, I even extended this deadline to the 14th of November. This deadline passed without any response.
Seeing as he’d not bothered to reply to me, I considered reposting the blog as well as an earlier version of this one. First though, I sent an email to the Burzynski Clinic’s corporate email address with a copy of the email thread between Marc Stephens and me, a copy of the original blog and an earlier version of this post. I wanted to know if they considered anything factually incorrect or not.
I attach an email (titled Email Thread.pdf) I have received from one Marc Stephens, who claims to represent you. As you can see from the attachment, he states that he represents you, and furthermore threatens me with libel proceedings in respect of material I posted on my blog.
I have carried out some internet research, and I have not been able to establish whether or not Mr. Stephens is a lawyer; certainly he does not appear to be a member of the California Bar nor the Texas Bar in the light of my visit to the California Bar Association’s and the State Bar of Texas’s websites. Please could you confirm for me whether he does in fact represent you and, if he does, on what basis he does represent you.
In the light of Mr. Stephen’s email I attach a copy of an article (titled Burzynski Blog Final.pdf) I propose to post on my blog as well as the original blog post (titled The Burzynski Clinic.pdf) which is currently offline. Please could you tell me within 7 days what, if any, of the blogs you object to, and, in particular, whether you believe any of the blogs to be factually untrue.
This seems to have been then forwarded on to Marc Stephens. He seemed rather irate and replied with this:
This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.
Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to, Ratbags.com, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.
In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.
This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.
Again, this is my FINAL WARNING TO YOU.
(Screen capture of Google Maps satellite view of my house)
This is harassment. First of all, he is the only one that thinks I have committed illegal acts. Contacting my school would be wholly inappropriate. Also, repeatedly sending me Google Maps screenshots of my house seems to me like he’s trying to intimidate me.
Of course, I wasn’t going to leave it there. He continues to bring unqualified threats against me. My response?
Dear Mr Stephens
You continue to threaten to bring a claim against me for defamation.
In the event that such a claim is brought in the USA I will rely upon the well-known authority of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan 376 U.S. 254. As you may be aware, this would require your client to show proof of actual malice before they could succeed in any libel claim. My postings are clearly not malicious. I believe in their truth, and I have sought to obtain a comment from your client, or else at least ascertain any objections to specific items within the posting. I am willing to listen. I would certainly reflect your client’s position if asked.
I think I come within the circumstances envisaged by the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Underwager v Salter 22 F.3d 730 at :
“…actual malice” has nothing in common with “ill will.” A person who concludes that a public figure is a knave may shout that conclusion from the mountain tops.”
If the claim is brought in the English courts, you ought to be aware that in the light of the well-known decisions of Rookes v Barnard  AC 1129 and Broome v Cassell  AC 1028 you will not be able to bring a claim for punitive damages on these facts. You also ought to follow the procedures set out in the Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation which require you to, amongst other things, set out precisely what your client objects to and why.
This is an issue which you have failed to address. I am not asking for a legal lecture from you. What I am asking for is clear information of what your client objects to, and why. As things stand, I have heard nothing substantive; I have just received threats.
This speaks volumes.
I would remind you and your client of another aspect of the well-known decision of Underwager v Salter, to which I refer above, which was expressly adopted by the Court of Appeal in England in the decision of Lord Chief Justice Judge in British
Chiropractic Association v Singh  1 WLR 133:
“[Plaintiffs] cannot, simply by filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. … More papers, more discussion, better data, and more satisfactory models–not larger awards of damages–mark the path toward superior understanding of the world around us.”
I also note that you threaten to mention my “illegal acts” to my school.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have committed no “illegal acts”, the threat to involve my school is wholly inappropriate. If an English solicitor was to make such a threat they would be in breach of their professional obligations and subject to disciplinary proceedings by the SRA. Please inform me which US bar association you are a member of so that I can draw their attention to your threats.
Then, on Wednesday, 23rd
September (Edited: Typo!) – November one day before the new deadline was up – I received an email from a law firm called Dozier Internet Law. They informed me they had been hired by the Burzynski Clinic to “investigate and address the issues regarding [my] blog” and respond to my questions in the email sent directly to the Burzynski Clinic.
They’ve not replied within the deadline I gave.
As such, I have reposted the original blog and posted this new blog detailing exactly what has happened to me.
It’s taken nearly a whole month to sort through this legal mess. I’m incredibly lucky that it hasn’t been even longer. I’ve also been very lucky to have help and advice from Alan Henness, Simon Singh and Robert Dougans, associate at Bryan Cave. The legal advice and help I’ve received has been invaluable and has brought me to where I am now – reposting the blog and telling the story of my legal threat.
Since the initial email, I have discovered others have received similar legal threats from Marc Stephens including Peter Bowditch of ratbags.com, who blogged about Burzynski eleven years ago, but is only now receiving this legal threat. Another blog threatened includes Quackometer.net from Andy Lewis, A.K.A Le Canard Noir. You can find a blog about his ordeal with Marc Stephens here:
I posted the blog so that patients, their friends and families would be aware of the whole story about Burzynski and his unproven therapy. I want them to be aware that the treatment seems to be in a constant cycle of trials generating unpublished results. As Dr Howard Ozer, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said – it is scientific nonsense.
So in order to spread the word, I need your help. I would really appreciate it if you could do
the following two things:
Tweet about the Burzynski clinic. You could either write your own tweet or you could retweet my suggested tweet: RT @rhysmorgan Patients need to know the whole truth about Burzynski’s cancer treatment claims: http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/08/the-burzynski-clinic/
OR you could retweet this: RT @rhysmorgan Dr Burzynski does not want you to know the whole truth about his cancer treatments, which is why he tried to sue me http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/11/threats-from-the-burzynski-clinic
Add a link to this blog from your website so that it will increase the PageRank for this blog so that when patients search for Burzynski, they discover this blog as well as Dr Burzynski’s propaganda. This way, they can discover the whole truth and determine for themselves whether it’s worth investing in his treatment.