Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Al-Megrahi not faking cancer, says victim’s GP father

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads in part:]

Dr Jim Swire, a retired GP who lost his daughter, Flora, in the bombing, said that Megrahi appeared to have experienced a “dramatic and welcome improvement in his condition” since leaving Scotland.

But this could be explained by the benefits of returning home to his family or the treatment he has received in Tripoli since his return, he added.

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, took the decision to free al-Megrahi, claiming at the time that he had been “judged by a higher power” and was going home to die. However, ministers have repeatedly refused to release independent medical advice they received on his condition.

Dr Swire, who believes that al-Megrahi was wrongly convicted and previously met with him in prison, said he wanted to respond to allegations that the Libyan had fabricated illness or that the doctors who saw him were “bought”.

Writing in the British Medical Journal today, he adds: “We know that a major reduction in stress will sometimes induce a major remission, even in a terrible progressive illness such as his.

“Secondly, he has undergone a course of treatment in Tripoli with one of the taxol series of drugs, together with palliative radiotherapy. These can be associated with remissions of many months. Presumably they had not been given in Scotland, for some reason.”

Professor Karol Sikora, an eminent oncologist who advised the Scottish government on the bomber’s condition, said yesterday there was no obvious reason why al-Megrahi would not previously have received Taxotere — a powerful drug that is used to combat five different types of cancer — in Scotland.

He said the rapid spread and extent of al-Megrahi’s cancer, diagnosed in October 2008, meant it was incurable and chemotherapy was discontinued last December.

“I have not seen al-Megrahi since August but I have been in contact with his doctors in Libya, and I understand he is only receiving palliative care. He is clearly seriously ill and has not made a public appearance since December. He does not leave the house.

“It is very difficult to predict when any cancer patient is going to die,” he added. “Given how rapidly the cancer has spread [al-Megrahi] has been very lucky if it’s slowed down.

“Patients can benefit when they are surrounded by loved ones and actively want to live longer to spend time with them. We [doctors] all see cases like that, where it appears to be mind over matter.” (...)

Professor Sikora added: “A lot of people believe that he’s never had cancer and that it’s all faked, but that’s not the case. The evidence was really clear-cut.

He added: “I get the odd hate mail, Jim [Swire] gets hate mail ... but I think we can fully justify the decision made to colleagues and the public.”

[Apart from the first 150 words, Dr Swire's BMJ article is available only to subscribers.]

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