Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alternative Medicine: Natural, Gentle, Holistic, Bullshit

Things have gone quiet concerning the death of Penelope Dingle from cancer which she unsuccessfully sought to treat through homeopathy and alternative means, but the 13th August 2010 issue of Australian Doctor provides some extra information that the mainstream media seemed to ignore.

The article is mainly concerned with two (real) doctors who treated Ms Dingle, and who have been referred to the medical board as a result.

Dr William Barnes recommended vitamin C and Carnivora (Venus Flytrap extract). According to the Coroner's report, Dr Barnes stated this would stop her cancer growing (and only cost around AU$500 a week). Two days later, Ms Dingle apparently changed her mind, preferring instead to rely on 'classical' homeopathy (EoR assumes that's somehow different from 'modern' or 'postmodern' homeopathy). Dr Barnes testified that he told her homeopathy was unlikely to work, but the coroner dismissed this claim, pointing out that Dr Barnes was supportive of homeopathy "at least in some circumstances".

Ms Dingle underwent emergency surgery only when she was on the point of death, after which she again sought out Dr Barnes for help to 'improve' her immune system while undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

He offered her intravenous vitamin C and B with Carnivora, along with intramuscular mistletoe and other alternative treatments. The coroner said Dr Barnes' treatment, which ran from late 2003 and continued for most of 2004, cost $30,000.

Dr Igor Tabrizian was consulted in April 2003 for nutritional advice.

The coroner accused Dr Tabrizian of failing to take adequate notes, compile a detailed history or access the results of Ms Dingle's colonoscopy or MRI scan. The coroner said "it was difficult to reconcile his responsibilities as a doctor" with his failure to assess her condition, though stressed that neither Dr Barnes nor Dr Tabrizian had caused or contributed to her death.

Ms Dingle's homeopath, Francine Scrayen, on the other hand, appears to have kept exemplary records. Indeed, she apparently documented for a year that Ms Dingle had blood in her stool and abdominal pains before suggesting she get a medical diagnosis. Ms Scrayen testified that she had "assumed" that Ms Dingle was suffering from haemorrhoids and that

"according to Hering's law of cure, [this was an] old symptom coming back."

Hering's Law states

From above downwards.
From within outwards.
From a more important organ to a less important one.
In the reverse order of their coming.

It is a magical incantation that predates modern medicine and its understanding of micro-organisms and disease causal factors, but it is still a favourite of homeopaths, especially to placate sufferers of healing crises which, while they may appear to the uneducated eye as an indication that you are geting sicker are actually something completely different:

A healing crisis is the opposite of a dis-ease crisis yet in many ways feels the same, and symptoms are often similar. It's very important to make the distinction between the symptoms of dis-ease process and those of the healing process. Healing crisis usually occurs after a period of increased well-being, and may last a few days. Each healing crisis releases physical problems from the past. When a healing crisis comes, do not attempt to stop it! This confuses most people because, "If I feel sick, I must be sick," when in actuality, the discomfort of the healing crisis is an indication of your own body working to heal itself, from the inside, out.

You're not really dying from cancer, you just think you are!

The coroner observed that Ms Scrayen was "not a competent health professional" who had "minimal understanding of relevant health issues." He also observed

"Unfortunately [Ms Dingle] was surrounded by misinformation and poor science."


  1. I've been thinking it might be time to write a letter or two to the Health Minister asking for a response to this case and for what policy changes will come from it.

    To my knowledge there was no ministerial response to the Coroner's report. Perhaps the Perth Skeptics, et al, could try to coordinate something.

    It's difficult, however, to see how reason or evidence will ever win this battle.

  2. Andy I agree.
    The marketing on their website is exceptionally brazen.
    These doctors appear to sell "south-of-the-border" cancer treatments.
    Surely some of these are experimental?
    I would like to know if this type of practice is lawful re ethics required in clinical trials.

  3. Singling MS Scrayen out as having almost no understanding of health issues and being incompetent is also grossly unfair. That applies to all homeopaths.

  4. Thanks for that blog post, EoR. Well done.
    Good points, Andy, and Lucy Jr.
    Hopefully the doctors will be struck off, even if Scrayen won't even get a slap on the wrist from the association of homeopaths.


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