The real Doctor Evil

Stuff like this chills me to the bone:

A doctor struck off by the General Medical Council for exploiting people with multiple sclerosis could be facing legal action by patients. A firm of solicitors said hundreds of “vulnerable people” who travelled to the Netherlands for treatment may seek compensation. Dr Robert Trossel treated them at his clinic in Rotterdam, following initial assessments in the UK. He charged thousands of pounds for unproven stem cell treatments.

I take heat from friends, from colleagues, and especially from my nemesis for my stance that sometimes the patient is the person who is the least equipped to make the decision about his/her health care. The reply inevitably comes that “people have a right to make their own health care decisions,” or that “scientific orthodoxy” is dangerous so we shouldn’t trust the evidence. I even field regular criticism from friends that think that we should be allowed to pursue unproven medical techniques (or even those that have been shown not to work) because it might benefit some people (either through placebo or through some kind of individualized magic powers that therapies supposedly have that isn’t detectable through clinical trials).

I offer this case study as an example of why I hold the position that I do, and am happy to defend it without shame. This doctor abused and perverted the trust that his patients placed in him as a caregiver, and used it to perform illegal experiments on them. The reason he was able to do it is because he led them to believe that his ‘treatment’ was going to help them recover from multiple sclerosis – a disease that can paralyze you and take away your autonomy. It is no small wonder to me that people would be willing to do just about anything to obtain relief from a disease like this, even if it’s something that is simultaneously expensive and risky.

As before, I am dismayed that I didn’t pay more attention in English class, or that I’ve largely ignored the vast bodies of literature in the English language, because I find myself at a loss to adequately put my disgust for this kind of predatory and exploitative fraud into words. The kind of callous disregard for the obligation that a health care provider has toward their patients, and for human decency in general, that this doctor has exhibited shocks me to my very core. He drew thousands of dollars from people based on a combination of their trust and desperation for a cure. These are dollars that these people could have used to get home care, or travel, or invest in real research, that have instead been wasted because Mr. Trossel (a doctor no longer) thought that he was above petty concerns like clinical equipoise or biomedical ethics.

It’s for this same reason that I am opposed to expediting the research process for this so-called “liberation therapy” proposed earlier this year. While I am hopeful that the procedure works, my optimism is tempered with a healthy amount of skepticism, precisely because the support for it is emotional rather than rational. This is why we have channels through which research must go – to avoid tragedies of the type perpetrated by this vulture.

After a fleeting improvement, Mr Pear’s [a patient who received the experimental procedure] condition has now deteriorated significantly. Mrs Pear said: “When you are sitting in front of a neurologist who is saying ‘look, there is nothing you can do’, you clutch at straws. I am not saying we are the most intelligent people on God’s Earth, but we certainly are not completely stupid.”

It’s almost a shame that there is no god or supernatural force to hold accountable those who would prey on the vulnerable like this. Luckily, we live in a world that has systems in place to provide a measure of justice, and I hope that someday Mr. Trossel comes to realize how evil and heartless his actions were.

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