Minuskin, J.J.D.R.C., Temporarily Assigned.
This matter was brought before the court on plaintiff's order to show cause pursuant to R. 4:52-1 seeking to enjoin defendant Valley Hospital from prohibiting or interfering with plaintiff's decision to be treated for cancer with the controversial drug laetrile.
The issue which faces the court is whether an informed terminally ill patient can be limited in the choice of treatment received from a licensed physician to state -- or hospital -- sanctioned alternatives.
The essential facts are not in dispute.
Catherine Suenram is the 78 year old widow afflicted with terminal cancer currently hospitalized at The Valley Hospital (Valley) in Ridgewood, New Jersey, who desires to receive laetrile in an effort to cure or arrest the course of her cancer. Laetrile, also known as Vitamin B-17 and amygdalin, is a chemical compound extracted from the kernels of apricots and has been, over the years, recommended for the treatment of cancer. Laetrile is not generally recognized by qualified experts as a safe and effective cancer drug, but it has been claimed by its various proponents to cure or control the spread of cancer, or more moderately to
mitigate the symptoms of the disease without curing it.*fn1 42 Fed. Reg. 39768 (1977).
Plaintiff was admitted to Valley sometime in August 1977 where she underwent extensive treatment for her cancer, including chemotherapy. Her condition has steadily deteriorated. Her prognosis is poor; death is imminent.
At the request of plaintiff and her two daughters, who claim to have familiarized themselves with both the pros and cons of laetrile treatment, her physician, Dr. Allen Chinitz, is willing to administer laetrile. Since the substance has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, National Cancer Society or American Cancer Society, and has not been proven to be an accepted method for the treatment of cancer, Valley, in the exercise of its best medical judgment, refuses plaintiff or any patient hospitalized therein to be treated with laetrile. Plaintiff's offer to defendant of release from liability has not altered defendant's position. The order to show cause brought by Mrs. Suenram seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting the defendant from interfering with the administration of the drug laetrile to the plaintiff.
An injunction is an extraordinary equitable remedy ultilized primarily to forbid and prevent irreparable injury, and it must be administered with sound discretion and always upon considerations of justice, equity and morality
involved in a given case. N.J. State Bar Ass'n v. Northern N.J. Mortgage Ass'n , 22 N.J. 184 (1956); Citizen's Coach Co. v. Camden Horse R.R. Co. , 29 N.J. Eq. 299, 303 (1878). Injunctive relief should generally be granted in a suit where the issue presented is grave and difficult, where the injury to the moving party will be irreparable if the relief is denied, and where the inconvenience or loss to the opposing party will be minimal if the relief is obtained. Rutherford v. U.S. , 542 F.2d 1137 (10 Cir. 1976); Wyrough & Loser, Inc. v. Pelmor Laboratories , 376 F.2d 543 (3 Cir. 1967).
In the case at bar the court is faced with a grave and weighty problem. A terminally ill woman, whose prognosis suggests that she will not survive this very month under the current "orthodox" treatment she is receiving, requests an alternative. The dying request of this unfortunate woman is that she be permitted to take a drug whose use is not sanctioned by the hospital where she is a patient.
It is beyond question that she is in danger of suffering irreparable injury if relief is postponed for the shortest period of time or denied. Any legal right she may have to receive laetrile treatment from her personal physician will likely be of only academic value if secured at sometime in the future. For the terminally ill, the ...