Consumer Health Digest #10-21

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 27, 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.

Wakefield and colleague to lose their British medical licenses. The British General Medical Council (GMC), which registers doctors in the United Kingdom, has decided that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, 53, and his colleague John Angus Walker-Smith should be struck from the medical register for "serious unprofessional conduct." Unless they appeal (within 28 days), they will be permanently banned from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom again. In January 2010, the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel concluded that Wakefield had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in connection with a research project and its subsequent publication. Altogether, it found Wakefield guilty of more than 30 charges.

The panel's hearing, which started in July 2007, centered on a study of children by Wakefield and twelve colleagues that linked the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism and bowel problems. Lancet published the study in 1998. Subsequent research found no connections, but sensational publicity caused immunization rates in the UK to drop more than 10%. Ten of the study's authors have renounced its conclusions, and The Lancet retracted the paper when the GMC panel announced its findings.

In 2004, Wakefield relocated to Austin, Texas, where he helped found Thoughtful House Center for Children, a "nonprofit" clinic that features unsubstantiated treatments for autism. He resigned from there after the panel's GMC report was issued. He does not have a medical license in the United States but oversaw the clinic's research program. Walker-Smith retired from clinical practice in 2000. The panel also concluded that a third colleague, Professor Simon Harry Murch, had demonstrated poor judgment but had acted in good faith and that his involvement was not sufficient to warrant a sanction. Wakefield has accused the British government of engaging in a "cover up" and "witch hunt" and said that he plans to appeal.

Another "autism specialist" facing charges in Texas. The Texas Medical Board has charged Seshagiri Rao, M.D. with nontherapeutic prescribing, failure to secure informed consent, and fraudulent billing related to his mismanagement of five children with autism or autism spectrum disorder. The complaint states that Rao:

This is the second time Rao has been in trouble. In 2006, he signed an agreed order that assessed an administrative penalty of $250. The action was based on allegations that he failed to provide properly requested medical records within 15 business days. Rao is a board-certified pediatrician.

Tennessee bills aim to curb MLM-based pyramid schemes. Bills intended to protect consumers against pyramid-based multilevel marketing schemes have been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly. The Tennessee Multilevel and Pyramid Distributorship Act (HB 2843, SB 2929) would:

The Business Opportunity Rule, which the FTC proposed in 2006, had a similar purpose but no criminal penalties. However, its MLM-related provisions were stripped in response to a lobbying campaign led by the Direct Selling Association (DSA). The DSA also opposes the Tennessee bills. The reason for this opposition is obvious: MLM companies nearly always exaggerate what new distributors are likely to make. The vast majority of new distributors do not make significant income. Meaningful disclosure might deter millions of people each year from wasting their time and money by signing up as distributors.

British doctors call homeopathy "witchcraft." Doctors attending the annual British Medical Association (BMA) Junior Doctors Conference voted almost unanimously for a motion that, ""Given the complete lack of valid scientific evidence of benefit: (i) homeopathy should no longer be funded by the National Health Service; and (ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy." During the videotaped discussion, which can be viewed on the BMA Web site from 4:55:30 to 4:58:43, Dr. Tom Dolphin, deputy director of the BMA's junior doctor's committee, provoked raucous laughter by referring to homeopathy as witchcraft. To become official BMA policy, the motion must be accepted at the BMA's full conference next month. [Donelley L. Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors. The Telegraph, May 15, 2010] The BMA has previously expressed skepticism about homeopathy, arguing that the rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should examine the evidence base and make a definitive ruling about the use of homeopathic remedies in the NHS.

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This page was posted on May 26, 2010.