11.19.2007

Miracle Cures that can Kill

The Seattle Times has a good series going this week on modern day snake oil salesmen and their "energy machines" which are supposed to "cure cancer, reduce cholesterol and even eliminate AIDS."

Their claims are a fraud. The Seattle Times has found that thousands of these unproven devices — many of them illegal or dangerous — are used in hundreds of venues nationwide.

These are not the devices in wide use by medical doctors, such as electrical stimulators used for sports injuries. Nor are they the biofeedback devices used at respected alternative-medicine centers such as Seattle's Bastyr University. Rather, these are boxes of wires purported to perform miracles. Their manufacturers and operators capitalize on weak government oversight and the nation's hunger for alternative therapies to reap millions of dollars in profits while exploiting desperate people:

• In Tulsa, Okla., a woman suffering from unexplained joint pain was persuaded to avoid doctors and rely on an energy device for treatment. Seven months later, her son took her to a hospital. She died within hours from undiagnosed leukemia.

• In Los Angeles, a mother pulled her 5-month-old son out of chemotherapy for cancer and took him to a clinic where a 260-pound machine pulsed electromagnetic waves through his tiny body. The baby died within months.

• In Seattle, a retiree with cancer emptied her bank account to buy an energy machine. Shortly before she died, her husband, a retired Microsoft manager, examined its software, finding that it appeared to generate results randomly — "a complete fraud," he said.

Over the past year, The Times investigated these machines and the people behind them.

The investigation took us to where the manufacturers of some of these machines are based, in Hungary and Greece. We found the operators — including a cross-dressing federal fugitive who moonlights as a cabaret singer — making outrageous claims as they peddled their wares. We discovered that the U.S. regulatory system has allowed them to flood this nation with an estimated 40,000 devices.

And we learned that many operators consider our state a safe haven for these "miracle machines."

Check out the picture of the guy with the sparks coming out around his head. The times notes makers of these devices often claim they are FDA "approved" when in reality their manufacturers are simply registered with the FDA -- which does test whether the device actually does any good. This has even fooled the US Military, which the Times caught using these "energy devices" on wounded troops!

Not surprisingly, our state's chiropractic board has been an easy target for lobbing by these hucksters, who use patently false claims to get their devices approved for use by state regulators.
The case highlights how state regulatory board members are increasingly pressured to validate new therapies, but lack the time and scientific expertise to evaluate claims. Washington's chiropractors board has approved about 100 devices and procedures for chiropractors, sometimes after little study. Members are appointed by the governor and serve without pay. The Times found that makers of unproven energy-medicine devices have tried to get licensing boards in more than a dozen states to approve them for use.


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