[back] Michael L. Culbert, ScD
Michael L. Culbert, ScD, fighter for Health Freedom
by Marcus A. Cohen
Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Jan, 2005
Michael Culbert, founder and president of the International Council for Health Freedom (ICHF), and the editor-in-chief of the ICHF's magazine, died unexpectedly on September 11, 2004. He was 67, and had recently been admitted to the International BioCare Hospital and Medical Center (IBC) in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was vice president and information director.
Culbert was in the front lines in the battle to establish alternatives to conventional medical practice for three decades. He immersed himself in the battle while a reporter and editor of the Berkeley Daily Gazette in the early 1970s, covering the trial of Dr. John Richardson in the Berkeley municipal court. Richardson was under prosecution by the state of California for treating cancer patients with an unapproved substance--Laetrile. Politically on the conservative right, Richardson and his supporters took a Libertarian position on the issue of freedom of choice in health care.
In an interview with Professor David Hess for Hess' book Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies (Rutgers University Press, 1999), Culbert recalled his immersion in the world of alternative therapy: "I would go to the Berkeley municipal court...and there were McGovern-for-president left-wing hippies in the audience who were in favor of this John Birch doctor...This was incredible. Here was an issue that was far beyond left and right.... The freedom-of-choice movement was a populist revolution."
From that moment on, Culbert stated in his interview with Hess, he helped foment the freedom-of-choice revolution: "It was tremendous," he said, the enthusiasm still evident in his voice. "We went across the country, and we never knew who was going to pop up."
Investigative reporter Peter Barry Chowka, paying tribute to Culbert in an obituary published in the Natural Health Line, emphasized that "Culbert's influence on the field of alt med, especially during the critical, germinative period of the 1970s and '80s...is not to be underestimated."
Here are an essential handful of Mike Culbert's credits in the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): He authored or co-authored two dozen books on integrative health care and medical politics. The first was Vitamin B17: Forbidden Weapon Against Cancer (Arlington House, 1974); in the early 1970s, Laetrile was frequently called "vitamin B17. Medical Armageddon, brought out in 1998, became a best seller, translated into several languages and published in more than two dozen countries. Many of Culbert's books and writings remain in print, obtainable at the ICHF web site.
A lifelong journalist, Culbert published hundreds of articles on CAM. He branched out into videotapes on alternative medicine, producing dozens of these.
He was co-founder, president and chairman of the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy, Inc., and its successor organization, the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Medicine (CFCM). For a quarter-of-acentury, Culbert edited the CFCM newsletter.
After participating in a ground-breaking survey of unconventional cancer treatments in the US by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), issued by the OTA in 1990, Culbert was invited by the National Institutes of Health to participate in 1992 in the formation of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), the predecessor of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
He was featured speaker and lectured at numerous conferences in the US and in countries around the world, including; Canada, Germany, Guatemala, India, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, the Philippines, and Turkey.
Honorary acknowledgments of his efforts on behalf of health freedom included: the Lifetime Achievement Award of the New Zealand Charter of Health Practitioners in 1999; and the Humanitarian of the Year citation for 2001 from the Cancer Control Society (CCS). Culbert spoke at the annual conventions of the CCS in southern California every year from the mid-1970s until the year of his death.
Before serving as vice president and information director with the ICHF and IBC, he held similar positions with American Biologics for 20 years. (During Culbert's stint with them, American Biologics had offices in San Diego and a clinic and hospital in Tijuana.)
Chowka quoted author Ralph W. Moss, PhD, on Mike Culbert in his obit for Mike. Moss had known Culbert since the late 1970s. The two paragraphs that follow are from Moss:
"Michael was such a 'fixture' in the freedom of choice movement that it is impossible to realize that he is gone and even more impossible to imagine what the future will be like without him. He had an enormous influence on the course of cancer treatment, although that influence will never be acknowledged in the standard sources. His writings on Laetrile in particular were very influential. He was the first intelligent person I knew who believed that Laetrile was worthwhile. He was my very first contact in the alternative health movement.
But Mike's outstanding contribution was his personality, and particularly his sense of humor. He had an incredible gift to inject humor into any situation, to reassure patients with his 'subversive' sense of irony, with his natural gift to put one at ease. At our last meeting he told of being trapped in an elevator with one of the leading quackbusters. It was a hilarious story. I have no doubt that even this hard-boiled quackbuster came away somewhat softened toward Mike and towards what he represented."
Like Moss, Peter Barry Chowka met Culbert 25 years ago. "He made a strong and positive impression from the outset and was immediately likable, an instant friend," wrote Chowka in his reminiscences on Culbert. "In addition to a vast knowledge of the issues and personalities in alternative medicine, he could always be counted on to bring levity, irony, and humor to everyone in conversation, a style that informed his public presentations. He was a colorful, totally original personality, who appeared to genuinely enjoy his work to the utmost."
My recollections dovetail with those of Moss and Chowka, but I had much less contact with Mike over the years. I recognized quickly that his physical stature proved once again how deceptive appearances can be. Slightly below average in size, he was hugely above average in heart. And behind his puckish smile, the mischievous flash in his eyes, a razor-keen mind operated at warp speed.
Guy Molinari, who initiated the OTA report on unconventional cancer treatment while serving in the US House of Representatives (1980-90), invited Culbert to a meeting after Molinari had opted out of Congress to become borough president of his beloved Staten Island (New York City). It was around 1991. Molinari was planning a seminar on new directions in cancer research (which he eventually co-hosted with his daughter Susan in 1993, after she had succeeded to his Congressional seat). Mike flew in from San Diego. Richard Jaffe flew in from Houston. Jaffe, a young lawyer who had advised the OTA on the sections about law in its report, had successfully defended the late Dr. Emanuel Revici in malpractice suits against Revici in New York and was then busy defending Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski against the Texas medical board and in a federal suit brought by Aetna Insurance and the FDA. I distinctly remember Jaffe speaking of Mike as "Brother Culbert." In spirit, Michael Culbert was a "brother" to many of the leaders in the CAM field. In retrospect, that's my sharpest, lasting impression of him.
Culbert was born in Wichita, Kansas. He earned a BA from the University of Wichita. He received his Doctor of Science degree from Medicina Alternativa, a "UN-aligned, Sri Lanka-based international organization which is currently the largest grouping of physicians and healers in the world." In Michael's pre-CAM period, he worked as a part-time correspondent for NBC and a writer for Life and Time magazines, wrote radio speeches for the late President Ronald Reagan, taught Spanish at the University of Illinois, and interpreted for the Argentine Air Force. He is survived by his long-time partner, Dante I. Camino.
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