Antivaccine nonsense Autism Bioethics Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

If you can’t get justice one way, maybe justice will come another way

Actions have consequences, as do beliefs. For example, the widespread erroneous belief among many parents of autistic children that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative that was used in most childhood vaccines until 2002 somehow caused autism in their children have led some pseudoscientists and parents who have fallen under their sway to subject their children to all manners of “biomedical” interventions to “extract” the mercury and supposedly cure their children of autism. In extreme form, this belief has led to highly dubious “treatments” such as those served up by Mark and David Geier, in which strong chelating agents are combined with Lupron, a powerful drug that blocks sex hormone synthesis, in order to decrease testosterone, which they claim with no good scientific justification forms “sheets” that “bind” mercury, making it supposedly “harder” to chelate. The Geiers have even applied to patent their new “treatment,” just going to show that just because something’s patented does not in any way guarantee that it’s not a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.

Nearly two years ago, we found out that chelation therapy is not without risks, when a DAN! “practitioner” named Dr. Roy Kerry, an otolaryngologist who apparently discovered that woo pays, managed a clean kill of an unfortunate 5 year old autistic boy named Abubakar Tariq Nadama through chelation therapy. What happened is that Dr. Kerry’s staff administered sodium EDTA by IV push without cardiac monitoring, leading to a rapid decline in the calcium in the boy’s bloodstream (EDTA attaches to calcium ions as well as mercury and other heavy metals) leading to heart rhythm disturbances. This is a known risk of chelation therapy, which is why even the DAN!-preferred and supposedly “safer” chelation agent, Calcium disodium EDTA (Versenate) has warnings not to give it IV push and stating that the patient should be on a cardiac monitor while receiving IV chelation therapy. Indeed, Dr. Kerry’s horrific negligence leading to Tariq’s death has brought him under the scrutiny of the Pennsylvania State Medical Board. Unfortunately, that was back in October, and, as far as I can tell, Dr. Kerry continues to practice. Although I have no way of knowing for sure, it’s certainly possible that he may even still be chelating autistic children, despite the fatal incompetence and recklessness revealed in his own notes on the Nadama case.

It would appear, however, that, even if his state medical board doesn’t get Dr. Kerry, the tort system might:

The parents of a 5-year-old autistic boy who died after receiving a chemical treatment sued the doctor who administered it for wrongful death.

Mawra and Rufai Nadama, who live in Britain, accused Dr. Roy Kerry of causing their son, Tariq, to die of cardiac arrest at Kerry’s office immediately after the boy received chelation therapy on Aug. 23, 2005.


The Nadamas are also suing ApotheCure Inc., of Dallas, which they contend supplied the chelation solution but allegedly did not provide appropriate warnings and instructions about its use.
The company did not immediately return a call for comment.

The complete complaint here. Key passage:

Prior to treating Tariq Nadama, Dr. Kerry was specifically aware that:

a. There were no generally accepted medical studies proving that chelation therapy offered any beneficial treatment of autism. Despite such knowledge, he knowingly and intentionally ordered such treatment for Tariq Nadama.

b. The only FDA approved use of disodium EDTA was for treatment of patients with hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium) or digitalis toxicity, neither of which Tariq had. Despite such knowledge, he knowingly and intentionally ordered such treatment for Tariq Nadama.

c. He had never used EDTA therapy on a child. Despite such knowledge, he knowingly and intentionally subjected Tariq to chelation treatment with EDTA.

That one’s going to leave a mark!

Despite my schadenfreude at seeing Dr. Kerry get more grief, I’m conflicted about this new development. As much as a huge malpractice judgment against Dr. Kerry would satisfy my sense that at least some justice had been done and that he had escaped with more than just a slap on the wrist for professional behavior that is disgraceful and disgusting, this lawsuit bothers me. The reason it bothers me is because the parents share in the responsibility for Tariq’s death. They sought out a practitioner to administer chelation therapy to their child. They brought Tariq to the Pittsburgh area from the U.K. to have Dr. Kerry treat their child. But what really causes me a bit of conflict over this development is that Tariq’s father, Rufai Nadama is a physician who was working in the British NHS as a specialist registrar in respiratory medicine at the time of his son’s death. These were not your run-of-the-mill unsophisticated parents without medical knowledge or training. That does not in any way excuse Dr. Kerry for his actions and his almost certainly not giving full informed consent before starting chelation therapy, but it does make one wonder. On the other hand, the Nadamas stated quite clearly right after Tariq’s death that they would not sue. Perhaps the findings of the Pennsylvania State Medical Board thus far have opened their eyes.

Moreover, they appear to be suing not just Dr. Kerry. Indeed, they’ve learned the American way rather quickly and are now everyone and everything in sight:

The Nadamas are also suing another doctor who allegedly directed a medical assistant to administer the fatal dose at Kerry’s behest, as well as ApotheCure Inc., of Dallas, Texas, and several sister corporations, which they contend supplied, made or tested the chelation solution but did not provide appropriate warnings and instructions about its use. ApotheCure did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Nadamas have suffered what is the worst tragedy that a parent can suffer, the death of their young child. Worse, the wheels of justice seem to be turning very slowly as far as Pennsylvania’s taking action against Dr. Kerry. Seeing them go after him in the civil courts raises at least the possibility that justice will be served and is satisfying for that reason. Even better, this lawsuit could serve a greater purpose. Through the process of discovery, it will allow the plaintiffs to uncover the dubious at best and possibly illegal activities of the chelationistas and their suppliers. It might even deter some families from seeking out chelation. However, my satisfaction is twinged with a queasiness that comes from knowing that the Nadamas themselves share in the blame for this tragedy.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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