Iridologist Ruth Nelson’s treatment of Yvonne Maine’s skin cancer—that invaded her skull and ultimately cost her life—is now finally facing a tribunal hearing.
As a ‘natural remedy’ practitioner her actions don’t come under the scrutiny of medical boards, but have been put before the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner as a breach of human rights. (There is a Patients Code of Rights all practitioners must be adhere to.) Dr. Shaun Holt is expecting to be talking about this case on Radio Live today, around 3.10PM.
I’ve previously written on this case:
- An horrific case of natural health treatment of cancer
- Iridologist’s treatment of cancer criticised by Health and Disability Commissioner
- Shaun Holt on iridologist Ruth Nelson’s treatment of cancer patient Yvonne Maine
- Dear journalists and editors, (again)
An earlier article in the media by Bronwyn Torrie closed by quoting Ruth Nelson,
“The mistake I made was not anything to do with the skills or knowledge, it was caring too much,” she told the commission.
I wrote at the time:
I don’t know about others’ opinions, but to me that’s awful in several ways.
– “the skills of knowledge” passage looks like trying to defend iridology in what reads to me as an indefensible way. Iridology certainly has its ‘limitations’. (My earlier article touches on this.) Furthermore, currently anyone can call themselves a naturopath (as the stuff article notes), so there are certainly skills and knowledge questions to be asked of naturopaths, including iridologists. The H&D Commissioner’s report touches on aspects of her keeping up her training, etc., too.
– Her thing of both saying that “her philosophy was to put patients’ wishes first” and offering in her defence that her mistake “caring too much” is excruciatingly bad. If she really cared for her patients she’d refer them on promptly. ‘Tough love’ if you like. “You want me to treat you?” “No, go see a doctor.” That would be to put the patients interests first, not their wishes, which can be ill conceived however well meant. Isn’t caring for patients is to do the right thing by them, not pandering to them?
A key issue has been not referring her patient on. The Health and Disabilities Commissioner’s report includes a description of events including the excerpt below (the practitioner, Ruth Nelson, is ‘Mrs C’; the patient is ‘Mrs A’; note the conflicting statements as to when Ms. Nelson recognised it as cancer):
Initial consultation regarding lesion
24. Ms B said that, in February 2008, Mrs A showed her the lesion, which she had previously kept hidden under a hat. Ms B had not seen it for months, and noted that it had grown and was infected. Mrs A stated in her complaint that she thought the lesion was “just a cyst” based on what she had been previously advised by her GP.
25. Ms B said that she made an appointment for her mother to see Ms B’s doctor because Mrs A was embarrassed to go to her own doctor as she had let the lesion get so infected. However, Mrs A decided to go to a pre-existing appointment with Mrs C before seeing the GP.
26. Mrs A said that she showed Mrs C the lesion on 12 February 2008, by which time it was eight to ten centimetres in diameter. Differing recollections of this consultation have been provided to this Office. Mrs C stated that Ms B was not present at the first consultation about the lesion. Mrs C told HDC:
“At the first consultation I said [the lesion] was cancer. But then I didn’t use the word cancer (even when [Mrs A] asked) because legally I’m not allowed to diagnose cancer. I said to [Mrs A] ‘you told me it was a cyst … you told me the doctor told you it was a cyst, so that’s what I’m treating it as …’. I didn’t speak of cancer except at the very beginning.”
27. In response to my provisional opinion, Mrs C said that Mrs A told her that her (Mrs A’s) GP had said there was nothing further that could be done about the lesion.
28. Mrs C also told HDC that the first time she saw Mrs A’s lesion, she was revolted by it, and told Mrs A it was cancerous, and that she could not believe anyone would leave it in that state. Mrs C described the lesion as “rotten and oozing pus … lots of cyst left growing” and it had “eaten half [her] head”. Mrs C advised that she said: “We’ll give it three months and if it’s not improved, you have to promise me you’ll go to the doctors and the hospital – and she agreed.”
29. Mrs A reported that Mrs C said she could heal the lesion, and that she would need three months to do so. Mrs A said that Mrs C asked her not to go to her doctor during that time.
30. Ms B said she was present at the consultation on 12 February. She said that when her mother asked, “Is it cancer?” Mrs C said “absolutely not”, and said, “It’s what your doctor said ─ a cyst.” In response to my provisional opinion, Mrs C denied that Ms B was present at this consultation.
31. Mrs A spoke of Mrs C as a “convincing lady”, and Ms B believes she and her mother were brain-washed by Mrs C. Ms B said: “We trusted her implicitly as every piece of advice we had got previously had ended in a good result.”
32. However, Mrs C stated that, despite telling Mrs A that she could not treat the lesion and that she did not want to treat it, Mrs A persisted, and Mrs C gave in. Mrs C maintained that Mrs A had assured her that she had sought conventional treatment, that the lesion had been cut out, although she told HDC this “seemed most implausible to [her]“, and that it would heal itself. Mrs C described her treatment as a “stop-gap measure … until [Mrs A] went to the hospital or died”. Mrs C recalled telling Mrs A that she could possibly grow some new skin around the edges, but would still require plastic surgery.
33. Mrs C told the media that it was not until a year after the initial consultation that she found out the lesion was 20 years old, and realised then that it must be more than a cyst, at which point Mrs C was concerned that she might be blamed for the situation.
Ms. Nelson seems to have applied a wide range of ‘alternative’ remedies. The media report notes “herbal poultices, oils and colloidal silver to the growing lesion” and lists at the end of the piece iridology, homeopathy, reflexology and the Bowen technique. It’s a pity to my mind that the article doesn’t point out the lack of evidence supporting these remedies.
Appendix: Summary of Health and Disability Commissioner’s report
1. In February 2008, Mrs A consulted Iridologist and Natural Health Practitioner Mrs C about a lesion on her head.
2. Over the following 18 months Mrs C provided treatment, which included cleaning the lesion, discussion around oral remedies, and applying topical remedies. No other health practitioner saw the lesion during this time.
3. Over this period, the lesion grew and was frequently infected. By the time Mrs A sought hospital treatment, the lesion was 10 x 11cm and some underlying bones were damaged. Mrs A was diagnosed with cancer and underwent major surgery. Sadly, she died in 2010.
4. Mrs C did not inform Mrs A of her opinions about her condition, and misled Mrs A about her qualifications. Mrs C therefore breached Rights 6(1), 6(1)(a) and 7(1) of the Code.
5. Mrs C did not adequately communicate and document that Mrs A’s situation was outside her expertise. She did not document her suggestion that Mrs A seek further advice. Mrs C acted unethically in failing to take appropriate steps when she had reached the limits of her expertise, and in forming an inappropriate relationship with Mrs A. Mrs C therefore breached Right 4(2) of the Code.
6. Mrs C did not minimise the potential harm to Mrs A, and therefore breached Right 4(4) of the Code.
7. By discouraging Mrs A from obtaining further treatment Mrs C failed to ensure co-operation among providers to ensure quality and continuity of services, and so breached Right 4(5) of the Code.
8. Mrs C will be referred to the Director of Proceedings in accordance with section 45(2)(f) of the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 for the purpose of deciding whether any proceedings should be taken.
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