'Second Opinion': Film Review

Second Opinion Still - H 2014
Courtesy Merola Productions/Tom Meyer

Second Opinion Still - H 2014

Medical doc spins an interesting yarn but has zero follow-through

Was a "quack" cancer therapy medically viable?

NEW YORK — What does one make of a seemingly advocacy-minded documentary that opens with a disclaimer saying it doesn't endorse the opinion it will spend the next 75 minutes presenting? Eric Merola clearly seems worried about legal exposure in Second Opinion, a doc about a man who got himself fired from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the '70s over concerns that a promising experimental therapy was being swept under the carpet. Ralph W. Moss is a persuasive interviewee and offers documents to support his accusations. But by relying on him alone, and treating a nearly 40 year-old episode as if it were all we needed to know about something that should be a present-day scandal if true, Merola offers lazy journalism with the apparent hope that someone else will pick this ball up and run with it. Until someone does, there's little reason for non-scientists to watch — and every reason to expect the picture to inspire cancer sufferers to seek out the treatment it says it's not promoting.

Ross worked in public affairs for the hospital from 1974 to 1977, and in the course of his duties got to know an elderly researcher named Kanematsu Sugiura. Intrigued by Sugiura's study of a "quack treatment" called Laetrile, which seemed to inhibit the growth of tumors in mice, Ross was upset when hospital brass disavowed the research; he says they not only lied about what it found, but insisted he do the same.

Ross's efforts to collect Sugiura's data and covertly spread it, starting an anonymous club of dissenters at MSK and waging a war of public opinion, is a fascinating echo of other whistleblower stories. But what shadowy power was Ross fighting? Though the film eventually gets around to hinting (prepare for a shock) that pharmaceutical companies might prefer to sell patented drugs than see this dirt-cheap therapy catch on, Merola and Ross offer no specifics at all. They speak to no one in a position to make claims about who could have pressured the hospital at the forefront of the "War on Cancer."

Production company: Merola Productions

Director: Eric Merola

Producers: Eric Merola

Director of photography: Doug Jenson

Editor: Eric Merola

Music: Peter Venne

No rating, 75 minutes