Penn Jillette on Hammer of Truth

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CherrixThis led Friday’s radio show. And before you ask… Yes, we’re attention whores:

Penn Jillette: There’s this kid… where the hell is he? I don’t even know where he is. But there was a thing on the Today Show the other day, it’s popped up a few places. But I got it from Hammer of Truth. Do you know Hammer of Truth?

Co-host Michael Goudeau: Not very well, no.

Jillette: It’s this libertarian website that I read every day. And I love it. And they also have a little ad for the radio show on there as well. But yesterday on the Today Show, I guess… Abraham Cherrix is a 16-year-old cancer patient who has opted out of another round of chemo in favor of an alternative treatment. Now you all know we do this show Bulls*clap*it and we could be more against alternative treatments. We are very against. He’s opted out of something I would push very strongly for if he were my child, for an alternate treatment. The young man has decided he wishes to pursue a “quality life” rather than a life measured by year markers. The interview went on and the woman writing this says:

The young man has decided that he wishes to pursue a quality life rather than a life measured by year markers. As I watched the interview unfold, my admiration for this boy’s courage turned into horror. It seems that a social worker in this young man’s state decided that his parents were neglectful. His parents supported his alternative treatment, treatment that has not been proven efficacious, and were dragged into court to defend themselves as parents. The state was awarded a sort of joint custody. A custody which mandates the young man to submit to tests not of his choosing. To the government monster, it doesn’t matter if the kid feels better on his organic diet. It doesn’t matter that his parents support his decision. The talons have dug in, and this kid will submit to any testing which may give him unpleasant news “” if only to be sure that he can continue on his alternative path.

Jillette: Amazing! You know… amazing. I think this is another interesting thing for the nut point of view. Because I am totally against giving up chemotherapy, I am totally against alternative therapies, I’m totally against his jive alternative diet. I don’t believe anything about this story except … his rights. He should have his own rights and on top of that his parents should have his own rights.

Bingo, it’s not about some wacky dumb choice, it’s about the state leaving parents alone if they support their child’s decision in making that dumb wacky choice. Can you imagine if child protection services stepped in every time you let your kid play sports without a helmet and protective gear? Dont’s laugh, it’s closer than you think.

Shoutout to the PennFans forums, where you can get daily mp3 recordings of the Penn Jillette show and discuss the show and other appearances and Jillette’s rants with other fans.

Update: Several commenters are making an issue about his diet vs cancer idea being stupid, so clearly he shouldn’t be allowed to do it. Let me respond:

Please stop pointing out the trees (his alternative diet) and look at the forest (personal choice for his body).

You can have an opposing viewpoint to something so long as you don’t cram your beliefs on someone else. That’s all Penn and others are saying here.

Penn and many of us may think this kid is bonkers, and wouldn’t do this ourselves. But who the hell are we to tell this kid he can’t do this to his own body when his parents condone it? This is about someone’s personal choice to have control of their body. Nothing more, nothing less.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

34 Comments
  1. Definitely watch the show. Penn wavers a lot on this one and definitely plays devil’s advocate when caller calls in supporting kid’s right to kill himself (supposedly the cancer is quite curable and a first round of treatment had already succeeded, a few cancerous cells were found and when they went for a mop-up second round he refused).
    In all fairness, Penn was mostly pointing out inconsistencies in person’s point of view.

  2. Heh. And after watching the whole thing, that was pretty much repeated all the way through. Touch moral positions brought up, Penn feeling lines for government intervention needing to be in place, but not sure where it should be.
    The analogy to parent and kid agreeing that the kid wanted to be part of some religious human sacrifice did in fact seem rather apropos.
    This fruit thing is some wacky belief.
    ‘course, the kid has had one round of treatment already, and who knows, he might have some chance of surviving.

  3. Nemo,
    I think that the kid and his family have every right to refuse treatment. It seems to me, at least after reading some interviews, that he wishes to play catch with his siblings. He wishes to live without the pain/sickness of chemo. I may not choose that path for my own family, but I respect his right to choose it. Whether he will be saved by another round of chemo is not the issue. The issue is whether it is the government’s right to dictate how he lives. (or dies in this case) He is pursuing happiness in HIS life. A long life is not necessarily a good one. (though I will likely eat those words on my own deathbed) Let the kid run/ruin his life as he pleases.

  4. Ironic that Penn and many other libertarians are very mainstream and accept the status quo when it comes to diet and medical treatment. I know a couple of poeple who got cancer and cured it through a raw vegan diet alone. If I got cancer, I would never get chemo. Dumping massive amounts of poison into your body to cure yourself? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

    Diet and exercise play a HUGE part in one’s overall health. Someone on a raw vegan diet has an extremely low chance of even getting cancer in the first place. Mainstream doctors are good at diagnosing a disease based on symptoms and then pushing harmful drugs on patients which often make them worse off. Most people get cancer because of the massive amounts of animal products and chemicals they pump into their bodies. Just look at Penn – he’s overweight and is obviously on is way to an early death, thanks in part to his close minded and old fashioned views about diet and nutrition.

  5. Someone on a raw vegan diet has an extremely low chance of even getting cancer in the first place. Mainstream doctors are good at diagnosing a disease based on symptoms and then pushing harmful drugs on patients which often make them worse off. Most people get cancer because of the massive amounts of animal products and chemicals they pump into their bodies.

    First class horseshit. The truth is that most cancers ( including mine) arent caused by any ONE damn thing they can point to with certainly. Some exceptions, but not many. If God did not want humans to eat meat, we would not have meat cutting teeth.

    The kid has every right to refuse or do a alt treatment. He also has every right to kill himself if he desires. Jack Kevorkian rots in a cell, forgotten, becuse his idea that a person owns their own life and should be able to end it humanely if they so desire would have sucked the profits out of medicine. They were so scared of the idea that they had to lock him away.

  6. Someday I’ll get Penn to appear on FTL.

    His agent says he’s too busy to appear. I bet that will change as we get more stations!

  7. Before you people go off on Leroy consider what the 1993 Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis had to say about our government’s and medical establishment’s war on cancer:

    “The drugs that we use on people – all those goddamn horrible poisons – they’re no less toxic than AZT. And we are doing it to everybody. Everybody’s aunt is being radiated once a goddamn month and given drugs that are going to kill her. We’re dealing with a bunch of witch doctors. The whole medical profession – except for the people that patch you up when you get a broken leg or you have a pumbling problem – is really fucked.”

  8. I agree with Sol on this one, although it’s not unique to cancer. The drugs they use to “treat” my disability are known to have negative affects on the heart and liver, known to contribute to the onset of type II diabetes, have the possibility of causing permanent twitches (tardive dyskinesia), known to cause weight gain (I personally have gained 35 pounds), and known to increase the risk of suicide. Unfortunately, the most effective treatment for my illness is illegal, and even if I go the legal but alternative route I get threatened with a court order to force my compliance with “treatment”. And for what? So I can pass as a normal human being at the cost of my artwork?

    I agree with Timothy–get the government out of medicine and let people choose for themselves how to treat illness!

  9. It has many problems, but on the balance medicine has helped many more people than it’s hurt. Sometimes it does both, but the ratio of help to harm is muddled.

    Surprise folks: there’s no perfect one way to do anything, be it cure cancer or bring more liberty. Judge it by the context the thing is in and make your choices.

  10. Penn says: “… I am totally against giving up chemotherapy, I am totally against alternative therapies, I’m totally against his jive alternative diet.”

    What’s up with Penn Jillette? How the hell is he totally against someone else’s diet? Who really gives a shit what somebody else decides to do, or eat? Is he totally against bicycles, black socks, and jazz?

    Jeez, no wonder Teller doesn’t say much – he’s afraid Penn will go on a tirade. I’m totally against being totally against what somebody else is eating, but I would be totally against someone who is totally against the right of someone to be totally against something I am totally against.

  11. Tom Blanton (and several other commenters who don’t seem to “get it”): Please stop pointing out the trees (his alternative diet) and look at the forest (personal choice for his body).

    You can have an opposing viewpoint to something so long as you don’t cram your beliefs on someone else. That’s all Penn and others are saying here.

    Penn and many of us may think this kid is bonkers, and wouldn’t do this ourselves. But who the hell are we to tell this kid he can’t do this to his own body when his parents condone it? This is about someone’s personal choice to have control of their body. Nothing more, nothing less.

  12. The way mainstream medicine in this country deals with cancer for the most part involves cutting it out, burning it out or poisoning it. All of these therapies play havoc with the body and mind. This paradigm hasn’t changed in the 35 year government war on cancer.

    I know many people who had cancer and these therapies did nothing to prevent their deaths and for several the “cure” did as much or more to kill them than did the disease.

    You’d think that after three and a half decades and God knows how many tens of billions of dollars spent on cancer research there would at least be one alternative paradigm offered by mainstream medicine in this country.

    And what a shame that people have to go to foreign countries to find one that the government and mainstream medicine doesn’t approve of (or be considered a criminal for trying it in this country).

  13. Stephen, I get what Penn is saying. What I’m saying is that Penn must be even more opinionated than I am if he has such stong opinions (“totally against”) about things like alternative medicine. I mean honestly, “totally against” that. Who cares about that? And who cares if Penn is totally against it.

    Of course the kid and his parents should have the right to do whatever they damn well please. And Penn has the right to go around getting his britches in a wad by being “totally against” this, that, or the other thing.

    My inclination against government intervention into any aspect of people’s lives is so strong, I don’t even need Penn or anyone else to help me “get it”.

    Like I said before, who gives a shit what someone else wants to eat, other than Penn? I give a shit about some bureacrat telling people what they can and can’t do.

  14. And Stephen, I see by your profile that you were born in 1978 and now you are “revolutionizing those that will lead the spearhead of resistance to the encroaching police-state”.

    Kudos to you. 1978 was a big year for me also. That was when I decided I was a libertarian.

    1978 was also the year I got my head beat in by Carter’s Park Police in Lafayette Park across from the White House and then thrown in jail. It seems there was something the cops didn’t understand about the 1st Amendment.

    So, while we blog about libertarian outrages of the day and Penn bitches and moans on the radio, I’m wondering how many people showed up when Abraham Cherrix and his parents were dragged into court. How many outraged libertarians have offered to help these folks resist? Did Penn start a legal defense fund for the family to fight the ruling?

    “Getting it” is one thing and doing something about it is another. The police state has encroached & I see little resistance.

  15. You will not get the government to stay out of the medicine business until you stop using insurance companies. Do you really think that insurance compaines are going to pay out money so you can do whatever treatment you want?

    Suppose you contract an illness that you decide not to do what the doctor recommends. Your immune system weakens and now you are get flus and whatnot. Do you expect the insurance companies to pay for the flu medicine? What if the insurance company says they will not pay until you do what the doctor recommends?

    It is not just the government sticking their nose in your health, it is also the insurance comapnies.

    Get a lawyer and sign some waivers.

  16. Michelle, I was merely correcting the article’s statement of Penn’s position, which did not seem to me, in listening to it, to be so black and white.
    While I question the capacity of informed consent in a kid who was quite possibly brainwashed and lied to by his parents, I do agree he should be allowed to kill himself if he wants.
    Heck, we all learn stupid beliefs and are brainwashed here and there with no one to disabuse us of them.

  17. MD’s are often authoritarians trying to prevent death with drugs, surgery and other drastic measures. Naturopaths and other “alternatives” are often libertarians trying to tempt us toward health. (My acupuncturist and chiropractor are both libertarians. Coincidence?) The trick is to make your own choice without letting that circumstance color the issue: sometimes authoritarians have good advice.

    Each person reacts differently to treatment and diet (some of us should be vegetarians and some of us will get sick without meat), and the outcomes to cancer vary based on your type of immune system, too. It’s folly to generalize about health and an excellent reason why the government should get out of the health business. (Corn subsidy, anyone? They feed corn to cattle and pigs to make them fat.) Wouldn’t it be nice if the government could actually prevent death? Instead, they give us the other certainty: taxes.

  18. >Wouldn’t it be nice if the government could actually
    >prevent death?

    Government does a hell of a lot to promote it.

  19. By the way, if you’re looking for Penn’s podcast in iTunes, the current feed seems to be the one labeled, “Penn Radio Podcast”. The old feed, which still shows up at the top of the relevance ranking, stopped working a couple of weeks ago.

  20. I’m not saying fruits and vegetables aren’t excellent for a person.
    Hell, I’m a vegetarian.
    Or that chemotherapy isn’t bad. Chemotherapy has nasty side effects, and basically consists of killing off every rapidly replicating cell in your body in order to try to get the cancerous ones.
    Just that eating fruits and vegetables will not magically make your body recognised the replicating cells as cancerous and finish them off all on its own.
    Is not surprising to me that a chiropracter or a naturopath would be a libertarian.
    Like anyone oppressed, they get a taste for liberty.
    That isn’t to say that there is any evidence for naturopathy and chiropracty having anything more than limited impact on your life. They will not cure cancer, even if they have a few modest uses.
    Now, there are better cancer treatments out there, real ones. Tested and shown to be effective. Treatments that the FDA has not approved in this country. I find that as sad is this poor deluded kid basically committing suicide – even if he has the right to do so.
    Quality of life? Ridiculous. A year or two of sickness is worth 50 years of happiness after.

  21. Quality can be a subjective term. That is why the government’s involvement in this person’s care is wrong. And it is hardly committing suicide to allow your body to do what it is programmed to do. I like science. I am married to a doc. I would pull everything I can out of the medical world to save my child. I would not force somebody else to do it for theirs.

  22. If the cancer is has a high probability of being cured with a certain treatment, and a virtual certainty of death without it, then yes, it is suicide.
    There are treatments out there, some non-FDA approved, but real ones, that help train the immune system to identify cancerous cells as hostile, but that is NOT something your body will necessarily figure out on its own. In fact, statistically, it won’t and the kid is screwed. And there is no magic fruit diet that will teach your body this when the cancerous cells have all the right surface proteins.
    I repeat though, the kid has every right to commit suicide, even if he is not engaging in a fully informed choice and may even believe, like you, that this will somehow help him get better. Poor kid.

  23. I definitely agree on two things.
    1.) The Kid has the right to kill himself if he wants.
    2.) Penn Jillette ROCKS

    I’m so far gone on issues like these I would not be against laws that allowed two consenting adults to duel one another to the death.

  24. I never said his alternative treatment would cure his cancer. I said he has the right to pursue that which makes him feel better.

  25. Mr. Jillette is as welcome to his opinions, as is everyone else. But the prime thing to recall, as many have already, is that he is not advocating ramming those opinions down anyone else’s throat, and definitely not in favor of using the apparatus of The State to do so…unlike just about every busybody, do-gooding SOB in every ‘health’ bureacracy does.

    I recall back in the 1970’s a similar case where a couple whose son was dying of cancer wanted to take him to Mexico for laetrile treaments, and the The State intervened and made a 21-year old adult a ‘ward of the State’ to prevent his departure. The parents managed to escape the cluthes of the bureaucracy and went to Mexico anyway. The young man died anyhow, but the State sought to further prosecute the parents for ‘child endangerment’. It never ends…

  26. Heh, I totally agree with the Doppelgänger.
    Just because I have the *opinion* that the kid probably acting out of ignorance, and like Penn, really feel sorry for him, doesn’t mean I think he should be forcibly saved by some state apparatus.
    Now if someone could get ahold of him in a non-forceful and explain things clearly to him and get him to change his mind, or if it was discovered that he was being coerced and his true feelings were being hidden out of fear, that would be a different matter.

    In the case of the 21-year-old. Was he unconscious, or for some other reason had turned decision making over to his parents?
    Odd to term it as his parents wanted to do it, rather than that he did, or holding parents responsible for anything an adult did.
    Oh, and had to lookup laetrile since I had never heard of it. Initially I thought it was maybe one of those nifty new cancer fighting approaches like monoclonal antibodies.
    http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Cancer/laetrile.html

  27. Wow, it’s amazing the opposing views being expressed here. I’ve already told everyone I know that if I get cancer I refuse to take chemo treatments. Chemo kills the body as well as the cancer. Abraham said in the last interview I read that he was afraid if he had to endure more chemo ‘treatments,’ it might actually finish him off.

    Why is everyone so afraid of death? It’s not like it’s the end of the world. I’m sick and tired of doctors, courts and social workers trying to play God. This family has enough to deal with – taking care of a sick child. Why can’t they just mind their own darned business?

    More of my comments on this subject can be found at:
    All the RAve – the RAnts of RA: Just Another Lost Freedom?
    http://reliableanswers.com/blog/2006/07/just-another-lost-freedom.asp

  28. My next MRI is tomorrow morning, and I’ll get to see how bad I still am ( or hopefully not) after my first round of chemo and radiation.

    You never know what you can get used to until you have little choice…..if you want to keep alive.

  29. Timothy, have you checked out any of the *real* alternative therapies?
    monoclonal antibodies for example?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monoclonal_antibodies
    Not that I know much about these, except from reading
    Racing to a Cure by Neil Ruzic
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0252073576/sr=8-1/qid=1153269412/ref=sr_1_1/103-9905448-7021410?ie=UTF8

    I can’t vouch necessarily for the accuracy of the info, but it is fairly well documented, and he noted a certain conservativeness, especially in the FDA controlled and sue-happy U.S. towards promising treatments that had had good success in clinical trials, but were still new.

  30. “Jack Kevorkian rots in a cell, forgotten, becuse his idea that a person owns their own life and should be able to end it humanely if they so desire would have sucked the profits out of medicine. They were so scared of the idea that they had to lock him away.”

    NO! Jack Kevorkian assisted people in committing suicide which is going a little further than a idea don’t you think?