Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Death by quackery

Just as I was coming up for air after the recent NIH grant deadline, Orac does another tremendous job discussing the case of the 2003 death of a young Coloradan cancer patient at the hands of an alternative "medical" practitioner.

I can't do the story the justice it deserves right now and it's making me sick to even think about the case (septicemia from "UV Blood Irradiation"), so just go to Orac's post. It's no wonder that ScienceBlogs has tapped him as a new team member.

Well, just so you know I'm not lazy but instead exhausted from grant writing, here are a couple of things that I can add:

The "practitioner" billed himself as a naturopathic physician, but even naturopaths won't touch this guy with a 10-foot pole. He did a two-week correspondence course instead of going to one of the four, 4-year North American colleges of naturopathy, then papered his office with diplomas and certificates from institutions that don't even exist.

According to Amber Taufen of Denver's Westword indy weekly, the practitioner has also been implicated in at least another death and a well-documented near-miss. Amber's outstanding article from last summer also cites Colorado naturopaths and CAM advocates as fighting among themselves when it comes to petitioning the state to license naturopaths (only about 13 or 14 states currently have licensing boards for naturopathy):

"Joanie Sevcik-Weichbrodt, president of the Coalition of Natural Health, sees regulation as ineffective. "The problem is, they want only certain schools to be allowed to sit for board exams for licensure," she says. "Only nationally accredited naturopathic schools. They want to put all the other 5,000 to 10,000 natural healers in the State of Colorado out of business; they want a monopoly."

So, "other natural healers" are now using the same argument against naturopaths who favor licensing requirements that CAM practitioners have used for years to rail against MDs.

Blind faith in charlatans who profess to do what allopathic medicine cannot is potentially dangerous and, in this case, even deadly. The continued scientific dumbing-down of the average American and the erosion of critical decision-making skills has created a populace ripe for the picking by unscrupulous marketers and pharmacomedical establishment conspiracy theorists who believe in cures too good to be true. People need to be equally vigilant, informed, and accept personal responsibility in their own conventional medical care as well.

Unfortunately, too many folks spend more time researching their next TV purchase than they do their own healthcare.


At Wed Feb 01, 06:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted this at oracknows, the references to citations "above" or "posted" refer to that.

To Abel PharmBoy,

Homeopathy is not the only quackery naturopaths study. Naturopathy is a repository for all the craziest ideas. Look at the quackwatch site I posted [], and don't miss the criticism of the "Textbook of Naturopathic Medicine." Also, read the chapter in Barrett & Jarvis (eds.) "The Health Robbers" (Prometheus, 1993), and the monograph by Atwood (cited above) in SRAM.

As for legitimate schools of naturopathy is concerned, there are also accredited schools of astrology. Naturopathy and astrology are still nonsense.

Of course your friends were shocked and said they would never do anything like that, that is Quackery 101. When something truly ridiculous or, in this case, horrific is disclosed- the strategy is to [say the practice is not mainstream,] or not done any longer. Your friends may well know not to do what the murderer did; but, you have no idea what other odd ideas they have that just have not surfaced.


At Wed Feb 01, 09:22:00 PM EST, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Hi Joe, I didn't mean to take over Orac's comment thread so I appreciate you coming over to my post on the issue.

I've also been a big fan of Quackwatch for at least nine years and have been recommending their stuff in many of my lectures and CME talks. But, it's not scientific for me to generalize about anyone's profession, particularly those that are not as standardized or regulated as pharmacy or medicine; those CAM practitioners whose opinions I trust based on data can take criticism from me and I've been around the block long enough to have a good BS detector. The quality naturopaths welcome having their models tested by good basic science and EBM methodology.

Still, I have some very major concerns about naturopathy and worry seriously about any profession that vocally distances themselves from allopathic medicine. I also object strongly to their misleading use of the title "Dr". I just don't have enough evidence to suggest that this guy is representative of 'mainstream' naturopathy.

At Thu Feb 02, 04:57:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad I found this site- I, too, don’t want to monopolize Orac’s blog for this. I have the following comments/questions:

“[I]t's not scientific for me to generalize about anyone's profession …”

What is a “profession,” is naturopathy a profession or a cult? I know a “healer” who will take your history and then swirl some water over a piece of agate, or opal, or jade, etc. and decant it. She will tell you to take a drop of that in a glass of water three times a day. That is her profession, is that a profession that you cannot scientifically criticize? If you look at the material I cited, you will see that naturopathy is equally absurd.

I urge you to read the facts about naturopathy that I cited, If you still have questions, you can contact Dr. Atwood. He is a friendly guy who has done extensive research related to their application for licensing in Massachusetts (denied). Speaking of “quality” or “mainstream” naturopaths is like talk of “quality” or “mainstream” phrenologists or astrologers.

It is not even clear what a “mainstream” naturopath does. Emily Kane is(was?) a Senior Editor of the “Journal of Naturopathic Medicine.” She advocates treating asthma with a bath in dilute hydrogen peroxide ( Apparently, she does not know the difference between peroxide and oxygen, or that people trying to absorb oxygen through their skin are described as drowning. When a local naturopath was confronted with this, he defaulted to Quackery 101 (“we don’t do that”). If a Senior Editor of their professional journal is not “mainstream,” who is?

The problems with naturopaths are not merely that they distance themselves from real medicine or hijack the term “doctor.” The mainstream ones kill people too (Butler’s book).



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