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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