A coronial inquest into the death of a woman from untreated bowel cancer has begun in Perth, WA.

Sadly, this is not the first time I have reported on deaths associated with the use of homeopathy. Recently there was the case of the untreated eczema death of toddler Gloria Sam, for which her parents were convicted of manslaughter.

Penelope Dingle died in 2005 from untreated bowel cancer aged 45 after being diagnosed in 2003. She first presented with bleeding from the bowel in 2001. Following a colonoscopy, she was advised by doctors to have surgery to remove the cancer. She declined conventional cancer treatment, instead deciding on following a regimen of alternative treatments including special diets, vitamins and homeopathy.

Her husband is Dr Peter Dingle, a prominent Professor of Environmental Toxicology at Murdoch University in Perth and a media personality and author. Modelling himself as a kind of Aussie Joseph Mercola, he has a flashy website and has written such titles as “Is your home making you sick?”, “Improve your memory, your thinking and your life” and “The six week healthy eating planner”, the latter co-written with a naturopath (read: not a doctor).

The inquest was conducted at the request of the family following Mrs Dingle’s death in 2005. According to evidence given at the inquest from friends of Mrs Dingle and from her diaries, she and her husband made a pact with homeopath Francine Scrayen to not take any conventional treatment including pain relief. Dr Dingle also planned to write a book about how to cure cancer with homeopathy and alternative treatments once his wife was cured. A friend of the couple testified they were “enthralled and entrapped” in the spell of Ms Scrayen.

A report from the West Australian newspaper described;
“….Pen had so much faith in Francine. She was totally in her control”.

The friend described how Mrs Dingle has called the homeopath “at least a dozen times a day” and would only consume homeopathic medicines prescribed by her.

She came to visit Mrs Dingle in 2003, and was shocked to see how emaciated she was, since she had been assured by the couple that Mrs Dingle was responding well to the treatment. When the friend spoke to the homeopath, who consulted exclusively by phone, her concerns were dismissed, with the homeopath saying Mrs Dingle’s pain “was in her head” and she merely had constipation. She would not allow Mrs Dingle to take any other forms of medicine.

The friend also described how Mrs Dingle moaned in pain every night she was there, and even a visiting nurse who rated her pain nine on scale of ten was unable to convince her to take pain relief. Eventually she did succumb, receiving morphine in hospital and emergency surgery. This was only after she was advised by doctors that she would vomit feacal matter and die an excrutiatingly painful death within 24 hrs if she did not. Her bowel was completely obstructed by the tumour at this stage and she had not had a movement for 12 days.

It was too late for Mrs Dingle by this stage as the cancer has metastasized after such a long period of neglect and she died in 2005.

The question now is will the homeopath be held accountable for contributing to the death? I am not familiar with the legislation in WA, but in NSW it is illegal to claim to be able to cure incurable diseases, in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Unregistered Practitioners, legislated by the HCCC. But technically, homeopaths are actually not unregistered practitioners since they do have a regulatory body, the Australian Homeopathic Association which has a code of conduct of their own.

It seems you don’t need to dig very deep to see where Mrs Scrayen has breached the code (mind you on looking through it, it is not particularly specific about harm or seeking conventional medical advice when necessary).

Section 1, part 1 under general principles of professional conduct, states that:
“the welfare of patients…..shall take precedence over a member’s self interest and the interests of employees and colleagues.”

Section 2, part 2 also states:
“Members shall not …cause undue harm to patients.”

The only other section that is relevant in this case is Section 2.4:

“Patients whose state of health is deteriorating shall not be attended indefinitely without the member in charge suggesting or insisting upon a consultation with at least one other practitioner to confirm the assessment and treatment.”

But by stating “at least one other practitioner” does suggest another homeopath, not like a proper doctor or anything, you know the ones who are qualified to treat cancer for example.

The HCCC Code of Conduct is not so ambiguous. Section 5 states:

“Health practitioners not claim to make claims to cure certain serious illnesses. (1) a health practitioner must not hold him or herself out as qualified, able or willing to cure cancer and other terminal illnesses.”

Now I don’t know if the homeopath claimed she could cure Mrs Dingle’s cancer – this information has not been revealed as far as I know. It might be the case that the couple made the decision to only use homeopathy and not conventional medicine. But even of this is true, the homeopath did apparently forbid Mrs Dingle from using conventional pain relief and surely this breaches either code of conduct for responsible behaviour.

We will wait and see. In the meantime, this is yet another sad case to add to the hundreds on the What’s the Harm website. It makes you wonder what exactly motivates people to shun science based medicine, and especially in this case, where the alternative was just water and the desire to pursue this line of treatment even after it became obvious the magic vibrating water was not helping.

Add to this, the fact that Dr Dingle has a PhD? None of it makes sense.

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  • DrRachie

    lol “The anti Dr Barnespeople on this site are the sort of people who get us landed with Abbott because they believe what they read in the Murdoch press”

    Now that’s some strawman

  • Caroline

    Doctor Barnes is a good man and worked very hard all his life in medicine The anti Dr Barnespeople on this site are the sort of people who get us landed with Abbott because they believe what they read in the Murdoch press What has happened to him is dreadful when he did his best to help Penny and to advise her that she needed surgery in this advanced case

  • Tuba

    http://www.homeowatch.org/news/dingle_finding.pdfDr William Barnes
    As indicated in these reasons it is matter of concern that Dr Barnes offered the deceased intravenous carnivora and vitamin C treatment in circumstances where she was suffering from an aggressive form of cancer and required surgery. I am particularly concerned that Dr Barnes told the deceased that these treatments had the potential to stop her tumour growing.
    I note that while Dr Barnes provided the court with articles which he claimed supported his approach, Oncologist Dr Van Hazel stated, “There has never been any reliable evidence that such treatment slows the growth of cancer”76.
    Even if there was some evidence that carnivora and vitamin C could have some effect on tumour growth in certain circumstances, I consider it most unfortunate that such relatively unproven treatments were recommended at a time when proven treatments could have been used and were urgently required.
    76 t.1066
    Inquest into the death of Penelope DINGLE page 103.

  • Jane

    Dr Barnes is highly respected and has helped many many people and to see him slagged off on this site by people who do not know him makes me very cross. It does not matter how many people die in hospital from careless errors and because doctors are tired, and cos drugs are not fully tested, the skeptics go for the alternatives as at fault.. This homeopath seems to have been unable to help Penny. I do not know her I cannot comment on this aspect of the case. Enough said. But Dr Barnes was my GP for many years and was one of the most understanding gifted and efficient doctors you could wish to meet. It is quite clearly stated that he advised poor Penny to have the surgery. He has a very responsible attitude and it is very very ignorant to criticise someone who has devoted his life to the care of others.

  • Sigh. So you blame Pen Dingle for her death because she didn’t believe enough? Nice. So Joanna, how much do the Big Pharmas pocket for chemo? Tell us please. Cause Big Supplement make a huge amount for remedies that are not tested, don’t require evidence and often don’t even work. Approximately 3.5 billion in 2009/2010 in Australia.

  • joanna shilson

    Dr Barnes completely cured me from advanced breast cancer with carnivora (venus fly trap). Once I was tumour free he recommended that I go through with the masectomy that my oncologists had been insisting on for many months.

    I follwed his advice and it was completely my decision. I had complete faith in all my healing decisions and I firmly believe that alternative therapys are full-proof, but you have to believe it and you have to believe in yourself and the person healing you. I had complete faith, firstly in myself and secondly in Dr Barnes. I feel very sorry for Mrs Dingle, but healing is the responsability of each patient.

    “Science Based Medicines” you people are SO ignorant! these “cures” are “Money based medicines”. Everyone seems so outraged that Mrs Dingle paid 2000 dollars for a medicine of her choice. Do any of you people have any idea how much the big pharmecutical companies pocket for chemotherapy, a therapy that only ensures temporary healing? it´s far too much of a coincedence, for my liking, that Oncologists only give patience one choice for treatment.

    Alternative treatments offer so much more; custom made treatment, oppurtunity to take responsabilty for you own health and permanant cures.

  • Andy
  • AndyD

    No. It’s just offline for the mo. Nothing sinister. Thanks for asking.

  • davidp

    Andy, what’s happened to Thinking is Real ? Blogger says “This blog is open to invited readers only” and I’m not invited. I’ve valued your posts and would love to keep reading.
    Have lawyers related to the coronial inquest posts got to you ?

  • AndyD

    It now turns out the homeopath also hooked Ms Dingle up with a psychic.

  • Jeff Keogh

    Mein Gott, Andy. That site is disgusting.

    I could only read so far before I had to stop. The torrent of bullshit was all-encompassing.

  • AndyD

    While the inquest continues, the WA president of the Australian Homeopathy Association, Madeleine Innocent, has defended homeopathy in the treatment of cancer.
    EoR has located more on her own website. Be prepared and don’t drink coffee near your keyboard as you read. Some examples…
    Next decision is, who do you tell? My suggestion is that you only tell those people who will be positive and support you whatever you decide to do. While most people mean well, some will be negative or judgemental and you need your strength for you, not for others.
    “Ill health doesn’t just fall out of the sky. You have caused it by the choices you have made and the treatment you have chosen. (my bolds)
    I need a shower now.

  • AndyD

    And today the finger pointed back, with the homeopath saying “well it wasn’t my fault”. [here]

  • Thanks Steve, I had not come across that particular source. I take back my statements.

  • AndyD

    We must neither condemn nor absolve anyone yet. The trial continues and the evidence is now conflicting.
    Radio 6PR, who has hosted Meryl Dorey in recent weeks, dropped Peter Dingle from their regular schedule today as a “duty of care” measure. Go figure.

  • Steve

    Peter Dingle is culpable of many things in his work as a “scientist” and “media personality”. However in this case he is the spouse of a deceased person, not their medical advisor. Maybe you can’t even blame the Homeopath any more than you can blame a Nigerian scammer for getting rich of the stupidity of westerners. I would be more concerned about members of the medical profession making money by promoting alternative treatments with dubious science and glossy websites with patient testimonials.

  • Mark

    Dr Dingle provides medical answers on the ABC TV show ‘Can we Help” – I certainly hope he doesn’t

  • Tina Scientific

    Alan Pearson says that “We know that Francine Scrayen and her ilk are dopey but what of P Dingle. He being conventionally trained ( to be skeptical? )is even more culpable. He should stand publicaly condemned and stripped of his privileged awards. That is why crazy people are dangerous because not all look crazy.”
    Can you explain what Peter Dingle is culpable of? What evidence do you have? It appears to me that all he did was love someone who was immovable in her beliefs and believed in a homeopathic practitioner that was way out of order. Peter Dingle was not the homeopath. He has said in court that he did not agree with her treatments and was not in control of them.From what I can see Peter dingle advocates wellness through nutrition, vitamins and antioxidants. You will have to jail half the medical profession, magazines and cancer total wellbeing program practitioners then!He also lost his wife.

  • AndyD

    No Steve, the finger pointing has begun at the inquest with Dr Dingle claiming he supported surgery but his wife would only listen to the homeopath.
    There’s a good summary of events so far at the ABC: Penelope Dingle homeopathy inquest
    The second “doctor” is also mentioned and, surprise, surprise, he’s another “nutrition is the answer” type.

  • RichardJ

    Maggie, what’s your opinion on this product by Bioceuticals?


    They say things like “scientifically formulated” .What do you think? Is it medically proven that “free radicals” can be eliminated from the blood with a product? Why wouldn’t my GP suggest this if I was losing weight and didn’t want toxins in my fat cells entering my bloodstream and “potentially” damaging my “sensitive organs”?

  • RichardJ

    Bioceuticals seem to be a legitimate company. They seem to create products that isolate compounds that have been found to improve outcomes, or the health of people with various conditions. However if you look at their homepage they are promoting a Vitamin D supplement that “may” protect against seasonal flu. Their rationale for this is one study of only 167 children where there was a decrease in flu infection from approx. 18% to 10%, but only is “certain” subgroups. The big question is were any of these children placed in isolation and actually given the flu and then studied to see if they then developed the flu? If not then how could the study prove any correlation?

    It would seem that Bioceuticals are the same as any cosmetics company. They look for possible links and create products based on unverified research, or at best, research that is still to be definitively confirmed.

  • Steve

    “Bastard Sheep” Unfortunately William Barnes is a doctor. He is registered with the WA Medical Board at http://www.medicalboard.com.au/practitioners.cfm?mode=details&ID=2256590
    Unless of course you are a Ph.D and you are taking the p1ss. Unfortunately the Medical board can’t strike someone off for being a quack. By the way I am not pointing the finger (as I can’t afford a Simon Singh style court case).

  • AndyD
  • “Doctor” William Barnes is not a doctor. Although he has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Otago New Zealand, what he actively practices is pure quackery.

    If you go to bioceuticals (http://www.bioceuticals.com.au/advisoryboard.aspx), you’ll see in his writeup Dr William Barnes is a leading researcher in holistic cancer treatment and has over 20 years clinical experience as an esteemed medical practitioner based in Fremantle, WA. Specialising in nutritional medicine, acupuncture and psychotherapy, he has a particular interest in nutritional treatments for cancer, inflammatory disease, chronic fatigue, heart diseases and depression.

    His interest in nutritional cancer therapies has led him to train abroad with cancer specialists such as Dr Emanuel Revici and his research work includes the development of selenium and flavonoid therapy for mesothelioma.

    Dr Barnes is a Fellow of the Australian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine.

  • Steve

    Anybody wanting information on Venus Flytrap should check out the information at the American Cancer Society at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/eto/content/eto_5_3x_venus_flytrap.asp

    The only positive thing you could say about it is that the extract contains 30% alcohol.

  • Steve

    As stated by AndyD it appears that a medical doctor (Dr William Barnes BSc, MBCHB (Otago)) did try to treat her with non-standard treatments. He works for a private company “Resort to Health” which looks like a medical practice pitched at the alternative market. The website has an article by him apparently presented to 2nd World Congress on Cancer 1995. The article promotes the “cure” of cancer with nutritional methods. This article is full of unreferenced statements and first person anecdotes. I can’t see that anyone would be able to present this at an international conference unless everyone had overdone the pre-dinner drinks. I don’t think he is representative of evidence based medicine.

  • Alan Pearson

    WE know that Francine Scrayen and her ilk are dopey but what of P Dingle. He being conventionally trained ( to be skeptical? )is even more culpable. He should stand publicaly condemned and stripped of his privileged awards. That is why crazy people are dangerous because not all look crazy.

  • Interested
  • Interested

    You can follow this on the ABC website (Perth news) and the West Australian online, they seem to be posting daily stories. Horrendous what has happened to her.

  • AndyD

    Today’s news suggests that she was even sold ($2000) a course of Venus Flytrap (Carnivora) by what I assume is a real doctor.

  • That seriously tugged at my heartstrings. It’s so sad how she had to suffer so much. If anyone would venture into homeopathy, they should be afforded with great counsel and proper information, cases like this can leave you with a lifetime of regret.

  • AndyD

    “she merely had constipation”
    The timeline is difficult to assemble from evidence so far (as in, who knew what, when) but if it was known at this stage that she had rectal cancer, I would think constipation would rarely be considered “mere”.
    And now seems like a good time to ask – what, exactly, does “having a PhD” mean? And are they all difficult to get?

  • EoR

    “the welfare of patients…..shall take precedence over a member’s self interest and the interests of employees and colleagues.”

    But if that provision was strictly adhered to, a homeopath would never treat anyone!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention » What’s the harm in homeopathy? -- Topsy.com()

  • Mick

    This is yet another upsetting case of fools who want to play doctor causing harm to those who are desperate to believe. It’s sickening.

  • reasonablehank

    Maggie, you prompted me to go through an old complaint made with a colleague. Another section under NSW law is:
    “NSW Public Health (General) Regulation 2002 Schedule 3 Section 7 paragraph 1. This paragraph requires that:
    “A health practitioner must not attempt to dissuade clients from seeking or continuing with treatment by a registered medical practitioner.” ”
    Here’s hoping that there’s something similar in W.A.