January 24, 2007
Praise the fraud, revisited
The (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal on Christian quacks:
As her lung cancer spread, shortening her breath, pressing into her back, Minna Shakespeare had faith that a thick, brown liquid she bought by mail from a California physician for $13,536 would cure her.
Her husband says Mrs. Shakespeare, a registered nurse and devout Christian in Cambridge, Mass., stopped chemotherapy on the doctor’s advice. Easton Shakespeare recalls his wife assuring him that the doctor, who prayed with her over the phone, was trustworthy.
Mrs. Shakespeare died in April 2003, four months after her first dose of the viscous liquid. Her husband’s com-
plaints triggered a federal investigation of Christine Daniel, a licensed physician and Pentecostal minister practicing in Mission Hills, Calif. Investigators say she used religion to sell expensive nostrums that she claimed could cure cancer.
Dr. Daniel’s small business is part of a boom in “Christian wellness”—dietary supplements and herbal formulas, sometimes along with diets inspired by Biblical descriptions, that sell briskly in a lightly regulated industry. Sales by religiously affiliated companies have surged since the mid-1990s to account for 5% to 10% of the dietary-supplements business, which had about $21 billion in 2005 sales, says Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal in San Diego.
… Federal authorities have identified at least three dozen people who drank Dr. Daniel’s mixtures, says a person familiar with the matter. Among those, at least eight people died of cancer, according to a Food and Drug Administration investigator’s affidavit. Some patients bypassed conventional therapies for Dr. Daniel’s regimen, according to the affidavit, patients and family members.
… [Daniel’s] Tarzana, Calif., attorney, Manuel Miller, added, “Obviously it goes without saying, we deny anything improper or illegal that’s been done by her. She’s totally innocent.” He said Dr. Daniel “would never under any condition” tell a patient to stop chemotherapy. He said he wasn’t familiar with products patients say they bought from his client. “When you’ve got the last stages of cancer, you’re looking for anything possible. The issue is: Did she ever say this will cure cancer?”
Er, yes, she did:
According to the FDA investigator’s affidavit, on a 2002 religious broadcast Dr. Daniel touted cancer cure rates of 60% or better.
… The FDA is looking into allegations that Dr. Daniel violated federal law by introducing an unapproved drug into the market, misbranding a drug, and committing mail and wire fraud, the affidavit says. Prosecutors filed the affidavit under seal in U.S. District Court Los Angeles in January 2006 to obtain a search warrant of Dr. Daniel’s home and office. “There is nothing wrong with a medical doctor claiming that they can cure someone,” said lead prosecutor Joseph O. Johns, an assistant U.S. attorney. “What is illegal is selling an unapproved new drug and claiming that it can cure cancer.”
… Mr. Shakespeare thinks the doctor hastened his wife’s death. “She was charging us for one thing, but selling us another,” he says. “I think the operation she had was all a scam. And it was a well-organized scam.”
One of many:
The FDA sent 75 letters last year warning supplement makers of possible violations, while the Federal Trade Commission has brought 126 prosecutions in the past five years against such companies for fraud and deceptive advertising.
… Jordan Rubin, author of “The Maker’s Diet,” which its publisher says has sold 1.8 million copies, has run afoul of both the FDA and FTC. Mr. Rubin is the founder of Garden of Life Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., which sells supplements. Mr. Rubin has told church and television audiences that “God healed me” from Crohn’s disease, he said in an interview. In 2004, the FDA warned the company to stop claiming the products could treat illnesses including colon cancer and arthritis.
In March 2006, Mr. Rubin and his company settled FTC charges by paying a $225,000 fine and agreeing to change advertising for four products including “Primal Defense,” which the commission said was marketed as a treatment for asthma, lupus, and Crohn’s disease.
But Daniel—who shares office space with a termite-extermination business—is in a league of her own:
Dr. Daniel says she has witnessed medical miracles. In a self-published 2006 book, she recounts how, after she prayed, a stroke victim walked without a cane and a drowned child with no vital signs returned to life. “I do not use prayer as a medicinal tool, but a combination of prayer with my medical care has never hurt any patient; if anything, it has saved lives,” Dr. Daniel wrote.
… Dr. Daniel [first] publicized her wellness practice on Dec. 5, 2002, on the “Praise the Lord” program on Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN is television’s largest Christian broadcaster, with 10 million viewers weekly, a network spokesman says.
… According to the FDA affidavit, Dr. Daniel said on the show that her cancer treatment combined prayer with herbs from around the world. She had not found radiation to be effective, she said, but patients with advanced cancer were “living today because of our treatment,” and even her “lowest level” formula had a 60% cure rate. Dr. Daniel told viewers that a Michigan woman whose breast cancer had spread to her brain had normal blood tests within two weeks of taking her first dose, the affidavit said. The network aired the clinic’s phone number.
… Dr. Daniel also gained patients through her Pentecostal church, New Christ Memorial in San Fernando, where members often testify to medical miracles they say they have experienced. Church member Olivia McClurkin put her faith in Dr. Daniel. A professional gospel singer, she learned she had cancer in both breasts in 1999. While another doctor recommended a mastectomy and chemotherapy, Dr. Daniel told Ms. McClurkin that her treatment would get rid of the tumors, the patient recalls.
… The tumor initially shrank and Dr. Daniel said she was improving, Ms. McClurkin recounts, but then it began growing through the skin and ulcerating. She says Dr. Daniel then treated it with ointment, with no improvement. After 90 days, Ms. McClurkin told Dr. Daniel she was leaving. “She told me if I left her, I would die,” the patient says.
Ms. McClurkin returned to her family’s home in Long Island, N.Y., but didn’t treat the tumor right away. Beginning in 2003, she has had a total mastectomy on her right side, a lumpectomy on her left breast, 19 lymph nodes removed and a hysterectomy, says her doctor, breast cancer surgeon David I. Kaufman. The cancer moved to her lungs, liver, chest wall and several bones. She is bald. Given how long she put off medical treatment, “It’s amazing she survived,” Dr. Kaufman says, adding that her condition is stable.
The WSJ article chronicles several patients who died after taking Daniel’s potions—but not before emptying their bank accounts. As for Daniel, she remains a licensed medical practitioner in California.
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