The relationship between charities and pharmaceutical companies isn’t always transparent, which poses questions as to how much power and influence the latter wields. But the bigger question is how much does that conflict of interest affect those in need of treatment? With Living Proof, the new film from Matt Embry (Hell or High Water: Rebuilding the Calgary Stampede), you won’t like the answers.
Embry’s latest is a more personal outing than usual. Since 1995, he’s been living with MS (multiple sclerosis) without the aid of drugs, but through a combination of exercise, diet, and vitamins, he’s been able to keep his symptoms at bay and live a reasonably normal life. With his organization MS Hope, he strives to help others diagnosed with the condition by sharing his experience and providing useful information about the available treatment options out there.
The symptoms of MS aren’t the same for all those affected, but it’s a permanent condition with no known cure. Looking at Embry, however, you wouldn’t think he was a longterm sufferer. He appears to be in peak physical condition and generally very healthy in spite of everything. What he’s doing is clearly working, and there’s a lot of inspiration to be found in his story.
He’s not the only person coping with the illness through alternative treatments either, and the film spends time tracking down fellow sufferers and experts who have rejected Big Pharma treatments in favor of a different approach. The film is a testament to those who’ve been able to take control of their own health against difficult circumstances, but it doesn’t paint the most flattering picture of big charities supposedly in place to help them.
You’d think that organizations dedicated to combating MS would be all for considering new methods with a proven track record of helping patients. But if Embry and his subjects are to be believed, they’re actually halting the progress for a cure. In one scene, author Judy Graham (Managing Multiple Sclerosis Naturally: A Self-help Guide to Living with MS) discusses how the MS Society of Canada was “beyond abusive” towards her when she proposed alternative treatments. Meanwhile, Embry has had similar run-ins with the same charity, which he discusses at length in the doc.
But his main issue with the MS Society of Canada is with its corporate partnerships. In the film, he states that only 16% of their income goes towards researching the condition, and the rest goes towards the self-serving interests of the parties involved. When one of the organization’s representatives tries to refute the accusations in an interview with a journalist, he fails to counteract Embry’s claims with statistical evidence. A documentary like this is never going to be objective, and while the filmmaker clearly has issues with certain organizations, his arguments are well-presented and supported by enough expert commentators to give them some weight.
That said, even if you don’t buy into the profiteering at the expense of people’s health argument, Living Proof’s message of hope and perseverance is strong enough to connect on a human level. Neurologists gave some of Embry’s chosen subjects the death sentence, yet here they are, proving those so-called experts wrong.