Actress Jane Seymour, a strong advocate of alternative cancer therapies, was the headlining witness at hearings of the Government Reform Committee held on February 24. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the committee, held the hearings to find out whether federal agenciesbe they health care providers, such as Medicare, or research-based, such as the NCIare aggressive enough in promoting alternative therapies. Those like Burton, who feel that federal agencies have to be more aggressive, support the Access to Medical Treatment Act, a bill promoted in the last two Congresses, and again in this one, by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). DeFazios bill had a hearing in 1998 in Burtons committee, which has no legislative jurisdiction.
If the DeFazio bill is to move forward during this Congress, it will have to start its journey in the Commerce Committee. Jessica Zufolo, an aide to DeFazio, says that the congressman is making some changes in the 1999 version of the bill in an effort to garner wider support. For example, the consumer protections section will be strengthened. Although Congress has not acted on the DeFazio bill, it definitely is concerned about the perception that alternative therapiesespecially for cancerhave been second-class citizens at the NCI. That concern is reflected in the fact that last year Congress authorized a change in the designation of the Office of Alternative Medicine to a full-blown NIH center. Wayne Jonas, md, had headed the office. He left on December 31, 1998. The NIH is still looking for a replacement, according to NIH spokesman Mark Stern. The new NIH center can approve clinical trials for alternative cancer therapies, without getting a green light from the NCI Advisory Council.