Consumer Health Digest #08-23

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 3, 2008

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.

Suit aims to stop taxpayer funding of California's Waldorf Schools. People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS) is pursuing a federal court suit intended to stop local school districts from franchising Waldorf-inspired charter schools. The suit was filed in 1998 against the Sacramento City Unified School District, which operates a "Waldorf Methods" magnet school, and the Twin Ridges Elementary School District, which had established six "Waldorf-inspired" charter schools, all located in other school districts. Waldorf schools are based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who established the religion of Anthroposophy. [Rawlings R. My experience as a Waldorf student. Quackwatch, Feb 14, 2007] The suit charges that the schools' "primary purpose and primary effect" is to advance religion.

In 2001, the District Court ruled that PLANS lacked standing to sue, but in 2003, the Court of Appeals disagreed. In 2005, the District Court dismissed the case again because PLANS refused to proceed without key witnesses and evidence that the judge had excluded. In 2007, the Court of Appeals sided again with PLANS. Meanwhile, California passed a charter school reform law that required schools originally chartered by districts outside their physical locations to apply for renewal in their home districts. Because Twin Ridges no longer authorizes any Waldorf Schools, it was dropped from the suit. A trial date for the Sacramento case has not yet been set. The PLANS Web site has the court documents and additional information about the case.

Medical Letter pans spinal decompression devices. Spinal decompression therapy is done with motorized tables that apply traction to the lower back. After reviewing about a dozen published studies, The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics has concluded:

There is no acceptable evidence that non-surgical spinal decompression machines can correct degenerated or herniated discs or that they relieve pain in patients in these conditions. There is also no convincing evidence that the physiologic responses of lumbar tissue to power traction equipment are superior to those with standard mechanical traction. [Spinal decompression machines. Medical Letter 50:41-42, 2008]

Chirobase has additional information.

Couple prosecuted for use of quack device. Donald Brandt and his wife Sharon Brandt have pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of "causing the introduction into interstate commerce of an adulterated medical device" called a Vibrational Integrated Bio-photonic Energizer (VIBE) Machine. They also agreed to forfeit the device and six others. Their indictment states that they used the devices to treat patients at their clinic even though neither was licensed as a health professional. In 2006, the State of Washington's Unlicensed Practice Program ordered Donald to stop. At that time, the authorities had noted that he referred to himself as a doctor, offered to cure a prospective patient of lung cancer, and treated many other patients for health problems. Sentencing in the criminal case is scheduled for September 2008. The VIBE machine is falsely claimed to cure disease by "the vibrational level of your body back to its natural state of being." The FDA has notified the distributor (VIBE Technologies, of Greeley, Colorado) that the device cannot be legally marketed in interstate commerce.

FDA warns another "black salve" seller. The FDA has ordered Willy Crowder and his company, Best on Earth Products of Las Vegas, Nevada, to stop marketing corrosive salves with claims that they are effective against cancer. The company's Web site had stated:

While historically, black salve and bloodroot salves have been used for melanoma, basal and squamous cell carcinomas. . . we at Best on Earth Products are not legally allowed to make such claims. Such claims made by companies would put these products into the category of "new drugs" based on the FDA definition. Again, we do not make such claims regarding our products."

The FDA warned that this type of "disclaimer" would not protect against prosecution because other parts of the site (including metatags), had made it clear that the products were intended to treat cancer. Corrosive salves are not safe for use against skin cancers because they can indiscriminately burn whatever the tissue they encounter and it is not possible to be certain whether cancer remains under the skin where it can continue to grow without immediate detection. [Barrett S. Don't use corrosive cancer salves (escharotics). Quackwatch, June 2, 2008]

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