I'm going to make Parliament find a cure for cancer: Lord Saatchi launches bill in a bid to beat disease that claimed his wife
Still suffers 'gnawing, numbing grief' of losing his wife Josephine HartSet to introduce Medical Innovation Bill on MondayWill change the law so doctors are able to try new treatments
00:45 GMT, 2 December 2012
Tomorrow is only the beginning. At 3pm in the House of Lords I will introduce the Medical Innovation Bill 2012. It will take 30 seconds, no more, but it will set in motion an important process. For this is truly a matter of life and death.
The aim, in practical terms, is to change the way we treat patients, many of them terminally ill. The Bill's ultimate goal is to help find a cure for cancer.
I confess to a personal interest. On December 17, 2009, my wife, the novelist Josephine Hart, was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer. It was at the hospital, at 5.32pm, that Josephine was told the news.
Legacy: Lord Saatchi with his wife Josephine Hart before she died last year from cancer
She uttered three words. Malignant. Advanced. Inoperable.
We didn't know then that it was terminal. There is always hope. Until there isn't. And, as we discovered, there is precious little cause for optimism in the cancer ward. It is a place of fear and uncertainty and medieval treatments that are degrading and ineffective.
I have witnessed scenes there that would not be permitted in a Hollywood horror movie.
Josephine died on June 2, 2011. Since then I have felt a gnawing, numbing, grief. I always will.
Sot say this Bill with Josephine or my love of Josephine would be ridiculous. I wouldn't know about any of this if it weren't for her and what happened.
But let me make clear: there is no real connection.
This Bill stands alone. I want to make a valid, worthwhile contribution, to put all that I have learnt to good use, and I realise that's not necessarily helped by being the relative of the deceased.
It's worth remembering the people who have helped with the drafting of this Bill have no connection at all. My team has spent a year researching this and we've consulted some of the top medical minds in the country. We also have their backing.
The Bill itself has been drafted by one of the top parliamentary counsels, the person who is managing the legislative process is the former Clerk of the House of Lords. Their motive is not bereavement, it is to encourage people to find a cure for cancer.
That's exactly how I feel. I am a rational person confronted with a conundrum. Which is, how is it possible that there's been so much technological advance in so many spheres but not in cancer Certainly not in the type of women's cancers that Josephine suffered.
And I've found one explanation. It is this. In English law there is only one test in cases of medical negligence. If a doctor is accused of failing to provide the proper care, a panel of expert witnesses is called to determine whether they would have acted in the same way.
It stands to reason therefore that you are more likely to be found guilty of medical negligence if you depart from standard procedure. Your livelihood and reputation are at risk if you deviate from the status quo.
This, the, is a key barrier to progress. Innovation is deviation by definition.
This Bill will change the law in a very specific way by setting out a procedure that doctors can follow if they want to try a new and different treatment.
According to Professor Alan Ashworth, chief executive at The Institute of Cancer Research, thanks to research into the cancer genome we are now on the brink of being able to provide much less toxic therapies.
Doctors know how to use them in a small subsection of a few cancers such as blood and lung cancers but they should be given more freedom to utilise them in an experimental setting. This Bill sets out the framework for that.
How is it that we are still relying on chemotherapy, radiotherapy and invasive surgery when none of them guarantee a certain outcome Worse, they often do more harm than good.
Most people think the terrible thing about cancer treatment is the hair loss. Hair loss, particularly for a woman, is a terrible thing, but the side effects of the drugs are much more horrific than that. They create the same symptoms as the disease – nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and fatigue.
Change: Tory peer Lord Saatchi wants to amend the law to make it easier for doctors to try new treatments for cancer
A further effect of the drugs is to damage the immune system, which opens a path to fatal infection. So a person is as likely to die from the treatment as from the cancer itself.
With this Bill, doctors may try new methods, confident that they have a legal framework to work within. I realise there will be objections. Nobody's going to change the law without objections. Firstly, I expect the Government will say it's otiose, a term much used in Parliament, which means unnecessary.
In other words this Bill will bring no benefit, they are already doing a marvellous job, tremendous new funds are being given to cancer research and people are working day and night on a cure.
I don't think that's a serious objection because I don't think anyone who has any experience of cancer would agree that everything's going terribly well at all.
The second objection is much more important, and it's that this Bill is dangerous. It's a license for recklessness and will allow quacks and snake oil merchants to practise experiments on patients and put lives at risk.
In fact, the opposite is true. A correct process, set out in law, will deter illogical or unreasonable departure from standard practice. A great deal of our research has focused on finding that balance between innovation and recklessness.
And we need that innovation. While the medical profession has made great inroads in some diseases, in others, such as pancreatic or ovarian cancer, there has been very little advance in rates of survival.
According to the experts, the cure for cancer, like the discovery of penicillin or insulin, will come from a man or a woman who has an idea. And it is going to happen one day.
But if it is to work they need to test that idea and prove that it's true. This Bill is going to help encourage that person.
So there is my motivation. True, my personal sorrow knows no bounds. Conventional thinking tells us to 'move on' after death. I disagree. That would be a monstrous act of betrayal. Josephine is me, I am her, we are one. Death cannot change that.
My wife said poetry saved her life. Its essential truths have rescued me too. In a poem by Robert Frost, Out, Out, a boy's arm is cut off in the sawmill. As he bleeds to death his workmates, 'since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.' Josephine said that was the most brutal line in all of English literature.
I will not be the one to turn away. If this Bil can help even one person, a mother, daughter, father, son, I will be happy.
But ultimately, one day, I hope it will help find a cure. It will be a fitting legacy.