Consumer Health Digest #10-04
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 28, 2010
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Vaccine scaremonger slammed. The British General Medical Council (GMC), which registers doctors in the United Kingdom, has reported that Dr. Andrew Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in connection with a research project and its subsequent publication. The hearing, which started in July 2007, centered on a study of children by Wakefield and twelve others that linked the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism and bowel problems. Subsequent studies found no connections, but sensational publicity caused immunization rates in the UK to drop more than 10 percent. Ten of the study's authors have since renounced its conclusions; and Lancet's editor said he should not have published the study and that Wakefield's links to litigation against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine were a "fatal conflict of interest."
The GMC began investigating after learning that Wakefield had failed to declare he had been paid £55,000 to advise lawyers representing parents who believed that the vaccine had harmed their children. The GMC found that Wakefield had:
- Improperly obtained blood for research purposes from normal children attending his son's birthday party, paid them £5 for their discomfort, and later joked during a lecture about having done this.
- Subjected autistic children to colonoscopy, lumbar punctures, and other tests without approval from a research review board.
- Failed to disclose that he had filed a patent for a vaccine to compete with the MMR
- Starting a child on an experimental product called Transfer Factor, which he planned to market.
The GMC panel concluded that the allegations against Wakefield could amount to "serious professional misconduct" and will deliberate on what action to take at a hearings scheduled to begin in April. During the investigation, Wakefield relocated to Austin, Texas, where he helped found Thoughtful House Center for Children, a "nonprofit" clinic that offers many unsubstantiated treatments for autism. He does not have a medical license but oversees the clinic's research program. The clinic's latest (2008) tax filing lists his salary as $270,000.
Former medical director of shady cancer clinic disciplined. Dr. Eoghan O'Shea, who served as medical director of the Canadian Cancer Research Group (CCRG) from 2000 to 2002 and from September 2005 through June 2006, has been disciplined by the the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. In response to a complaint, the College's discipline committee ruled that O'Shea had committed "professional misconduct" and:
- Must not engage or associate himself with the provision of "complementary" medical treatment for terminal disease
- Must not prescribe or compound products to treat terminal disease in the context of a complementary medicine practice
- Must never again work for or associate himself with the CCRG or its related organizations
- To the extent that he is permitted to practice "complementary medicine," must adhere to the College's corresponding policy, including, but not limited to, obtaining informed consent and examining patients before prescribing to them
- Within one year, at his own expense, must complete the College's medical ethics and informed consent course
- Must pay the College $3,650 for costs.
Critics wonder why Canadian law enforcement agencies ignore what CCRG does. Quackwatch has a report on its activities.
Court bars manipulation under anesthesia by Texas chiropractors. A district court judge has ruled that Texas law prevents chiropractors from performing clinical needle electromyography (EMG) or spinal manipulation under anesthesia (MUA). The ruling granted a Texas Medical Association (TMA) and Texas Medical Board request for a partial summary judgment against the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the Texas Chiropractic Association. The suit, initiated in 2006 by the TMA, seeks to block the chiropractic board's rules that would permit chiropractors to perform these procedures, which, the plaintiffs charge, constitute the clinical and legal practice of medicine and are beyond the chiropractors' lawful scope of practice. The TMA also challenged whether chiropractors have the right to "diagnose" medical conditions. The chiropractors tried to have the suit dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, but the lower court would not do so; and in 2008, the Texas Court of Appeals concurred. MUA has some respectable use for treating frozen shoulder or knee problems, but spinal MUA has none. Aetna's Clinical Policy Guide provides a detailed discussion. The "diagnosis" issue will be addressed in a trial scheduled in April. Regardless of who prevails at the trial, the matter is likely to be appealed.
This page was revised on February 5, 2010.