The American Medical Association House of Delegates said today Laetrile has "no proven value" as a cancer drug and overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to make it widely and cheaply available.
A committee had recommended - in a striking departure for American doctors - that the substance be made available to any cancer patient who wanted it.
The committee, despite its conclusion that all evidence indicates Laetrile to be worth-less either as treatment or palliative, had decided that "lack of scientific documentation" of Laetrile's worth "is of little importance" to those who back Laetrile or demand it for themselves. And the committee members, including Dr. Charles O'Donnell of Towson, Md., indicated they felt that only making Laetrile available at low cost over drugstore counters would still the public outcry that a useful remedy is being suppressed.
"We really feel the whole thing will die down" if it is made cheaply and easily available, argued Dr. Xavier Barrios of San Francisco.
"People who deal in this drug are making money at it at the present time," argued Dr. F. W. Dowda of Atlanda. "The only way to prevent it from being financially exploited is to let it be sold ove the counter with a skull and crossbones on it."
Such arguments were overwhelmingly rejected by the 250 AMA delegates, representatives of state medical societies all over the country.
They acted after 40 minutes of debate dominated by the contention that such a recommendation would be misinterpreted as an AMA seal of approval for Laetrile - and that it would be a dangerous precedent for the AMA to urge any sale at all of a worthless drug.
Dr. C. John Tupper of Davis, Calif., a member of the AMA Council on Scientific Affairs, also called Laetrile "possibly toxic" on the basic of two recent reports of deaths caused by Laetrile ingeston, one in a girl who swallowed some of her father's supply.
"The toxicity of Laetrile is just becoming known in this country," said Dr. Robert McAfee of Portland, Maine, a member of the American Cancer Society board of directors. "The toxicity of Laetrile is well known throughout the world."
He said he and other cancer society board members visited Mexico last week, and "Mexican authorities pointed out to us" that Laetrile has sometimes proved toxic - or poisonous - in cancer patients as well as in accidental swallowing.
Delaware and Oklahoma this week became the eighth and ninth states to legalize Laetrile's sale or distribution, despite lack of approval of the substance by the Food and Drug Administration.
FDA officials say they have seen no reports showing Laetrile to be safe or effective.
"It's one thing for legislatures to legislate Laetrile's availability," Dr. his fellow AMA delegates. "It's another to make us share the responsibility" for using it.
His implication was that many doctors will refuse to administer Laetrile no matter what their state lawmakers do.