Alternative Medicines and Medical Fraud

Yesterday while perusing the Hamilton News, a weekly community newspaper here in Hamilton, NZ, I came across an advertisement in the classifieds section that gave me pause.

Pranic Healing advertisement

An ad describing fraudulent medical services offered in the Hamilton News, February 4, 2011

The ad offers “pranic healing”, a practice that doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry, but which claims to be “a highly evolved and tested system of energy medicine developed by GrandMaster Choa Kok Sui that utilizes¬†prana to balance, harmonize and transform the body’s energy processes.”

It’s a form of Ayurvedic medicine that purports to treat a range of things, in this ad specifically the woman claims to be able to treat conditions ranging from breast changes and facelifts to business healings, psychotherapy and feng shui.

The “pranic healing” mentioned in the ad is a form of non-touch “energy healing”, where the practitioner believes they are able to channel healing energy into the patient, similar to the chinese belief in “Qi“, or the Japanese practice of Reiki.

A 2003 review of an earlier meta-analysis of distance healing concluded that the weight of evidence had shifted against the notion that distance healing was “more than a placebo” and that distance healing “can be associated with adverse effects“, where an earlier (A 2001 study by Edzard Ernst concluded that results from such studies were highly conflicting, and that as long as the alternative therapies weren’t used as a replacement for conventional therapies, there should be virtually no risk).

The ad then goes on to talk about how Faye is qualified with the Ifas machine, a “high frequency machine” used for the treatment in “anxiety, stress, headaches, gastric complaints, reproductive (sic), asthma, diabetes, skin ailments, ENT, heart ailments, cancer, tumours, urinary (sic), infertility, depression along with addictions, fears, phobias and other ailments”.

The Ifas machine, from the limited research I’ve done, is similar if not identical to the “Rife machine”, invented in the 1930s by Royal Rife with interest revived in the 1980s by Barry Lynes. Manufacturers of the device claim they can cure a number of diseases, including cancer and AIDS, although no evidence for these claims has ever been substantiated, and indeed a number of marketers and suppliers of the disease have been convicted of consumer fraud, felony health fraud, and deceptive trade practices.

Shelvie Rettmann of Minnesota advised to one patient with advanced colon and liver cancer that she should cease chemotherapy, as Shelvie’s machine could cure cancer. After the patient was told her cancer was cured, she experienced severe pain that caused her to see a physician who told her that her cancer had progressed considerably and the prognosis was hopeless. She died soon after that assessment.

At least 4 people in Australia and New Zealand, including a 5-year old child have died after ending conventional treatment in favour of the devices, one of whom was given a 60 to 70% chance of being cured.

The Alternative Medicine industry is largely unregulated, being limited by guidelines found here that allows the practitioners to get away with a great deal of dangerous practices as long as they don’t use certain words, like “cure”, and the like.

Because of this ad, I’ll be writing to the NZ Advertising Standards Authority on the basis that the advertisement is a violation of Principle 3 of the Therapeutic Services guidelines, and I believe one could argue Principle 2 as well, that the advert is socially irresponsible, given that it advertises a product known to not do anything, and a service that is associated with adverse effects which certainly aren’t outweighed by positive effects.

3 Responses to Alternative Medicines and Medical Fraud

  1. Michelle says:

    From the Medsafe site: “Natural Therapists (and others) have specific exemptions from some of the requirements of the Act in recognition of their role…..”

    It’s like it’s an invitation for them to practise medicine without a license. Ugh.

    All the best with the complaint, with the conditions she lists it’s obvious what she is doing is dangerous.

  2. Bufferkiller says:

    Keep us updated on what happens with the letter.

    Shit like this seriously pisses me off.

  3. James S. says:

    These people are not necessarily frauds, as deliberate deception is a necessary condition of fraud. A lot of them may genuinely believe that their practice is valid. Unfortunately, it is not, and while many of these treatments are probably harmless (except to one’s wallet), when these pseudo-medical techniques are being used in lieu of genuine medical treatment for serious medical conditions, the results can be deadly.

    Whether or not the practitioner genuinely believes her techniques work, she should not be allowed to deceive people into believing that there is serious scientific backing for any of these “treatments”.

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