JOHN DWYER. Another hard to believe example of the weakness of our regulators in protecting consumers from healthcare fraud.Aug 1, 2019
When I was much younger I often dipped into Ripley’s “Believe it or not” for a laugh, amazement and even enlightenment. I had a look at their website recently as I prepared to tell you a story that would fit well into their library and found that “Ripley’s” is alive and well, daily producing their remarkable vignettes; Frederic Baur, creator of Pringle’s chips had his ashes buried inside one of his cans, the common Swift can stay in the air for 10 months without landing, men only blink half as often as women, cats can be allergic to humans! Well, here is a serious story that is certainly hard to believe but, regrettably, is true.
In 1999, a bankrupt tennis coach, one Serge Benhayon, was sitting on a toilet when he received a clear message from God in the form of an “energetic impress”. Turns out he is the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci and is the man on earth who knows more about everything the anyone else. He is the latest in that great line of philosophers that included Buddha, Jesus, St Peter, Pythagoras, Archimedes and any number of other wise men. Enlightened such by God he knew he must start and lead a new religion which he called “The way of the Livingness” and use his unique knowledge to guide and heal. Benhayon describes himself as a “seer,” calls himself the “Ascended Master” and followers call him the “new Messiah”. They also believe he “was the one sent from the mythical kingdom of Shambahala to awaken us all” and is the only human to have achieved the “highest level of initiation” on earth. At times he retreats to an astral plane 6 million light years from Earth.
He has written that, like Leonardo da Vinci, he is a “Claimed Son of God” who will reincarnate “over and over again until each and every single human is united as one, by their true light” His organisation, “Universal Medicine,”(UM) provides diagnosis and treatment based on the belief that disease is caused by “energetic disharmony” resulting from ill choices made in this and previous lifetimes. You see there are two types of energy that can inhabit our body; “prana” (Sanskrit for life force) and “fiery energy.” Most forms of established wisdom, knowledge and belief, as well as most music and certain foods are believed to contain prana, which he regards as evil. To experience healing pranic energy is to be rejected or cleared to be replaced with “fiery energy” which emanates from the “Atomic womb of God”. Universal Medicine healing modalities and products, including teas, herbal elixirs, creams and laminated healing symbol postcards that aim to clear prana.
Benhayon teaches that people who abuse their authority, such as dictators and corrupt politicians, are reincarnated as children with disabilities such as “Down Syndrome” and cerebral palsy. Autism results from sins in a previous life while sexual abuse, including that towards children, is karma from past lives and the universe attempting to stop a person from continuing to make non-loving choices.
He also teaches that mental illness is caused by the possession of the body by evil spirits. He tells his followers that if they set conditions on their donations to UM, their “kidney energy” could be harmed in the next life. Breast cancer is caused by women pursuing maleness. A mother should only vaccinate her children if she feels it is right for them.
UM treatments involve a nonsense called Chakra puncture a form of acupuncture. Benhayon and acolytes can place needles in specific areas of your shoulder and exorcise evil spirits in 20 minutes. UM suggests that, “Esoteric breast massage” can prevent breast cancer. Massaging or just the laying of hands on different areas can address a myriad of problems.The stress of a sexual assault can be ameliorated by hands placed strategically on a woman’s vulva. Women should never exercise while adherence to his diet to avoid food with pranic energy can cause malnutrition. There is much more dangerous teaching all available on line and in UM’s published videos. Benhayon and his trained UM healers charge a lot of money for their services and he has been given millions of dollars by members of what is most definitely a dangerous cult.
Over the last few years a woman who had been referred to Benhayon, one Esther Rockett, was so appalled by his tactics with her that she started a blog to expose UM’s teachings and the dangers inherent in following his advice. Eventually Benhayon sued her for defamation and towards the end of last year and with a great deal of associated publicity, the case was heard in the NSW Supreme Court. I was invited to be the court’s “expert witness” for the hearing.
Esther won the case and the supreme court jury found it was true to say that Benhayon led a “socially harmful cult,” made “bogus healing claims,” “intentionally indecently touched” Esther and a number of other clients, and, as Ms Rockett claimed, “intentionally sexually preyed upon her and other clients during treatment sessions.” It was also agreed that Mr Benhayon “had an “indecent interest in young girls as young as ten whom he causes to stay at his house unaccompanied,” and “is dishonest”. The jury agreed with suggestions that he “vilifies people with disabilities”, “exploits cancer patients by targeting them to leave him bequests in their wills”and “dishonestly promotes fraudulent ideas of karma for self-gain” and declared him to be a “charlatan.”
Using the services of a private investigations firm, Phoenix Global, which specialises in online reputation management, Benhayon and his associates submitted numerous requests to Google Australia to remove internet links to news articles, websites or blogs that might question or criticise UM. Google Australia reportedly acted on complaints about more than 15 independent websites, as well as reports from seven news organisations. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, a total of 36 blogs have been removed. Links to television news reports, ABC radio reports and newspaper articles critical of Universal Medicine have also been removed from the internet.
Now I am providing the details above to put in context the next part of the story which is worthy of a “Believe it or not”. You would think that once regulators, charged with protecting consumers from health care fraud, had the above brought to their attention, restraining orders would quickly be placed on UM’s dangerous clinical activities.
The job of protecting consumers in NSW from health care fraud by unregistered health “professionals” such as Benhayon rests with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). Ms Rockett reported UM to the HCCC in 2013 and no action was taken. In December of 2018, after the defamation case, “Friends of Science in Medicine” (FSM), an organisation dedicated to health care being underpinned by credible scientific evidence of effectiveness, reported Benhayon and UM to the HCCC, provided the court findings and illustrated how Benhayon, and 40 trained acolytes, were trashing the code of conduct expected of non-registered health professionals and asked for a restraining order to be placed upon UM’s clinical activities. The Act involved clearly gives the HCCC the power to do this.
Consumer protection from fraudulent activities by registered health professionals, (doctors, nurses physiotherapists etc) is the responsibility of the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA). At least seven doctors and 30 other registered health professionals adhere to UM’s teachings and practices and advertise their affiliation on their websites. Their details were supplied by FSM to the regulator. Since the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard had been alerted to the dangerous activities of UM, I wrote to him in December 2018 telling him of the actions FSM was taking and asking for his assistance.
Now, seven months later, during which time Benhayon and UM are defiantly more active than ever, what actions do you imagine these organisations have taken? Believe it or not, none.
The HCCC informed Benhayon of the complaint and I have not seen his response, but the HCCC investigator in charge of resolving the complaint tells me that its all so difficult, “UM is a cult and you can’t stop people from believing what they want to believe” and, “We certainly don’t have the resources to track down and investigate all the Benhayon acolytes whose names are supplied”. However the HCCC is thinking that it could put a warning about UM on its website. My contact assured me this was a very “powerful tool”! You think? How many troubled people who have been lured into seeking help from Benhayon are going to check his bona fides on the HCCC website?
As for AHPRA, officers tell me that even though the registered health professionals declare affiliation with UM on their websites, as they don’t make specific claims for what they can treat with UM techniques they can’t do anything. The “National Law” allows AHPRA to regulate advertising by its professionals but not what they actually do to patients, a weakness in the Act that surely would fail a “pub test” for acceptable logic. Consumer protection from health care that is non-evidence based and indeed represents “anti-science” remains unacceptably weak in Australia. Continued advocacy is needed to have the next COAG Health Council meeting address this totally unacceptable situation
John Dwyer, emeritus Professor of Medicine at UNSW is the foundation president of Friends of Science in Medicine