Consumer Health Digest #01-17

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 23, 2001


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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.


"Rebirthing" therapists convicted of killing child. A Colorado jury has convicted Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder of negligent child abuse resulting in death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker, who suffocated after being wrapped from head to toe in a flannel sheet during a session of "rebirthing therapy." Watkins was also convicted of unlawfully practicing psychotherapy, criminal impersonation, and obtaining a signature by deception. During the trial, the prosecution played videotapes of the child begging for air and shrieking for fear that she would die. The jury also saw the therapists ridiculing her as a "quitter" and telling the child to "go ahead and die," and "being reborn is hard work." During the fatal "rebirthing" session on April 18, 2000, Candace was wrapped from head to toe in a cotton sheet. The therapists placed eight pillows around and on top of her and leaned into them to simulate a mother's womb. Candace was supposed to fight her way out and be "reborn" so she could bond with her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker. Colorado House Bill 1238 ("Candace's Law"), which became law on April 17, prohibits "reenactment of the birthing process through therapy techniques that involve any restraint that creates a situation in which a patient may suffer physical injury or death." The bill enables misdemeanor penalties for the first offense and makes a second offense a felony punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Two other defendants who participated in the fatal session are scheduled for trial in September. Jeane Newmaker is scheduled for trial in November. Quackwatch contains additional information.


St. John's wort ineffective against severe depression. A study of 200 adult outpatients has found that St. John's wort was not effective against severe (major") depression. [Sheldon RC and others. Effectiveness of St. John's wort in major depression: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 285:1978-1986, 2001] The experiment was conducted at 11 academic medical centers between November 1998 and January 2000. The participants were randomized to take either St. John's wort or placebo for eight weeks.


Dr. Barrett profiled in TIME. NCAHF Vice-President Stephen Barrett, M.D., is the subject of a 2-column article in this week's TIME Magazine. [Jaroff L. The man who loves to bust quacks. Time, April 30, 2001.]


Ravi Devgan, M.D. criticized by newspaper report. Ravi Devgan, M.D., a Canadian physician who operates "alternative" clinics in Canada and Mexico, has been severely criticized by an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail. [Priest L and others. MD's unorthodox practice extends beyond clinics. Globe and Mail, April 16, 2001] Among other things, the article states:


Has the Postal Service stopped fighting mail-order health fraud? An investigation by Dr. Stephen Barrett has failed to find any evidence that the U.S. Postal Service has initiated action any mail-order quackery since 1991. The investigation was triggered by former President Clinton's pardon of mail-order entrepreneur A. Glen Braswell, who has grossed close to a billion dollars by mailing misleading brochures for herbal and dietary supplement products. When Barrett complained about Braswell's Gero Vita International in 1995, he was told that the matter was under investigation. But the agency appears to have done nothing to try to stop them.


All-digital hospital planned. HealthSouth Corporation and Oracle Corporation are planning to build a $225 million "digital hospital" in Birmingham, Alabama, in which all records are computerized rather than on paper. The hospital's technological features will include patient beds with display screens connected to the Internet; electronic medical records storage; digital imaging instead of traditional x-ray film; an automated clinical laboratory; automated pharmacy dispensing; robotic surgery; and a wireless communications network that will permit doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals armed with hand-held computer pads to securely update and access patient records from anywhere in the hospital or around the world. In addition, doctors will be able to admit patients to the hospital electronically from their offices. The resultant efficiencies are expected to lower costs; reduce the likelihood of errors; and enable doctors to spend more time with patients instead of filling out forms, hunting for medical records and waiting for test results. [Source: HealthSouth Press Kit, March 26, 2001.]


HMOs facing racketeering suits. Medical societies from Georgia, Texas, and California and 20 doctors from seven states have accused about a dozen managed-care companies of systematically denying coverage for medically necessary treatments and using other strategies to increase profits. A federal judge in Miami has scheduled a hearing in early May to consider whether the complaints should proceed as class-action suits. [Albert T. Three state medical societies join HMO racketeering lawsuit. American Medical News, April, 16, 2001.]


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This page was posted on April 23, 2001.