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Berkley Bedell

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Berkley Bedell is a former U.S. Congressman from Iowa who served from 1974-1986. Bedell ran for congress after becoming independently wealthy through his Berkeley fishing tackle line. Bedell experienced prostate cancer. Although Bedell had standard therapy, like many cancer patients, he appears to have been emotionally traumatized by his disease, and the inability of honest physicians to assure him that his cancer was completely cured. In his quest for certainty, Bedell explored the world of "alternative" cancer remedies. He visited Gaston Naessens, a Canadian with a long history of promoting unproven cancer remedies [1]. Naessens apparently convinced Bedell that he was a kind of medical Christopher Columbus who was unappreciated for his genius--a victim of narrow-minded "conventional medicine." Naessens claims that through the use of his special microscope he can show the existence of a "transitional link between matter and cosmic energy" he calls "somatids." [2] Of course, people see something, but being unqualified to interpret what they are seeing puts Naessens in control. He interprets what people are seeing, and it all seems very scientific, but is it? (James Lowell, Ph.D., described the limitations of interpreting what can be visualized in a microscope in his evaluation of Live Cell Analysis, an invalid method of health assessment [3].) Naessens confirmed what Bedell feared, that there was some cancer in his blood. Bedell then went to Mexico to get the "treatment" that Naessens recommended [4]. Bedell became convinced that Naessens had cured whatever cancer remained in his body. Bedell says that tests show that he has no prostate cancer problem five years later. This obviously could be due to the effects of the standard therapy Bedell received, and/or the natural slow progress that the disease can be expected to follow. Bedell, however, doesn't mention alternative explanations for his good fortune; he merely uses it to legitimize "alternative medicine." It appears that he was converted to the deviant thinking of quackery. Bedell got Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to introduce a bill, which he lobbied personally, that established the Office of Alternative Medicine at the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIHOAM) in Bethesda, Maryland. Media coverage about the establishment of the NIHOAM has created the illusion that this event was due to some newly found merit of "alternative medicine," despite the fact that the sorry tale about how the office came about was well documented by the Congressional Quarterly Researcher [5].

Bedell eventually became a member of the advisory board of the NIHOAM where he has worked hard to push his personal agenda [6,7]. Bedell, Frank Wiewel, and Ralph Moss (editor of The Cancer Chronicles, a newsletter that continually bashes standard medicine and extols a variety of quack remedies in the name of its publisher, Wiewel's "People Against Cancer"), had the ear of Senator Tom Harkin to the degree that they became known as "Harkinites." The Harkinites so politicized the NIHOAM that the office's first director, Joseph Jacobs, MD, resigned in frustration [8]. The issue was whether or not the NIHOAM would operate according to scientific standards for which NIH was known, or whether personal testimonials, anecdotal evidence, metaphysical ideologies, and subjective acclamations would be given the imprimatur of NIH.

Odin, Minnesota dairyman Herbert Saunders claims that his milk cures AIDS, Lyme disease, cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Customers had to first buy a cow at $2,500 and then pay up to $35 a bottle for its milk. Saunders reportedly injects a sample of a patient's blood into the cow's udder; and, theoretically, the cow forms antibodies which become part of its colostrum. This theory is said to have been tested by the University of Minnesota in the 1950s with inconclusive results. Saunders defends his actions with familiar arguments; testimonials, his sincerity, and the hope it offers [9]. Saunders told an undercover state agent who posed as a cancer patient that he would "cough out" his cancer within months if he would take colostrum and refrain from chemotherapy. The 6-person jury voted 5-1 to convict, but the last holdout, a part-time social studies teacher, apparently couldn't decide whether Saunders was practicing medicine without a license or offering an alternative type of care that is not medical practice. Bedell, who claims that Saunders cured him of Lyme disease, provided $21,000 for Saunders' defense [10].

Bedell deserves harsh criticism because he has abused his privileges as an elected official. As a Congressman representing the state of Iowa, Bedell had the opportunity to thoroughly explore the quality of cancer care his state is providing its citizens. He also had access to National Cancer Institute experts. Further, when considering 714X he could have easily discovered that because of its nationally-mandated health care system, the Canadian government is very interested in determining the value of various remedies. It has tested Naessens' 714X and found it to be worthless [11]. Through the American Cancer Society Bedell could have discovered Naessen's history of charlatanism before coming to Canada. Bedell either did not do these things, or chose to believe the charlatan instead of responsible people within the evidence-based cancer research community. All of this reveals something about the way Bedell thinks. His faith in his ability to judge his personal experience as being superior to the judgment of people in medical science and regulatory affairs in both the United States and Canada is supreme arrogance.

Bedell stated in an interview that appeared in the offbeat publication Nutrition & Healing (Oct, 1994) that he was working to create a law that "allow" anyone to obtain any type of medical treatment from any licensed medical doctor, osteopath, chiropractor, or naturopath, as long as: (a) there was no evidence that the treatment is dangerous; (b) the patient is informed of possible adverse effects; and, (c) is informed that the treatment is unapproved by the FDA. Bedell's thinking on this matter is obviously muddled, because:

Bedell's idea of "medical freedom" places all of the burden on the patient who is unable to make a rational judgment. Most shocking of all to NCAHF, is the fact that Bedell was a lawmaker, but doesn't show the slightest insight into the underlying principles of consumer protection law (could this be because he is a businessman?). Consumer protection law is founded upon the difference between two concepts, caveat emptor versus caveat vendor. Caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware") is based upon the equality of bargaining positions of buyers and sellers. In Medieval times this was practical because people bargained for common products with friends and neighbors. When trade began to expand, buyers were forced to trust the word of sellers that items were what they were represented to be. It was then, during the 15th century that the concept of caveat vendor ("let the seller beware") became the rule for marketplace situations in which buyers and sellers were on unequal terms [12]. The caveat vendor principle has been restated in U.S. Supreme Court actions upholding landmark consumer protection laws in the USA [13].

Bedell's abuses of power and privilege earn him a place in NCAHF's Legislators Hall of Shame, but the fact that he has been able to get other members of Congress to go along with his ideas is even greater cause for concern. It means that people are enacting laws that will shape the future of American medicine who not only have no understanding of science or medicine, but who are so ego-maniacal as to believe that their subjective personal experiences or ideologies make them sufficient for the task. There is little wonder that Congress has such a low reputation in the minds of the American people.


  1. "Naessens Serum, or Anablast," American Cancer Society, 1967.
  2. Bird C. "Gaston Naessens' symposium on somatidian orthobiology: a beachhead established," Townsend Letter for Doctors, Oct., 1991.
  3. Lowell J. "Live Cell Analysis: high tech hokum," Nutrition Forum, Nov. 1986.
  4. Exclusive interview: political advocate of medical freedom congressman Berkley Bedell Nutr & Health, 10/94.
  5. Alternative medicine; unproven treatments gain followers, draw warnings of quackery CQ Researcher 1992;2(4):74-91
  6. Budiansky S. "Cures or 'quackery'?" U.S. News & World Report, July 17, 1995, pp. 48-51.
  7. Silber K. "Can alternative medicine find a cure for politics?" Insight, Dec 19, 1994, pp. 14-16.
  8. Krol. "NIH Director of Alternative Medicine resigns," Skeptical Eye 1994;8(2):7-9
  9. Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/22/93.
  10. Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/16/95.
  11. Health & Welfare Canada. "714X An Unproven Remedy," Health Protection Branch, 1990.
  12. Magnuson WG, Carper J. The Dark Side of the Marketplace. Prentice-Hall, 1972.
  13. U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. Unconventional Cancer Treatments. OTA-H-405 (Washington, DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, September, 1990), p6.

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© 1996 National Council Against Health Fraud.
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This article was posted on December 1, 2000.