AUGUST ROLLERCOASTER RIDE:
ROBERT ATKINS'S LICENSE
From The Cancer Chronicles #17
© Sept. 1993 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
Robert Atkins, MD, one of the most popular alternative doctors in the country, had his medical license suddenly suspended on August 10 . One week later, a New York Supreme Court Judge ruled that the suspension was arbitrary, capricious, and overbroad. Judge Edward I. Greenfield vacated the order and charged the New York State Department of Health with deliberately impeding a cancer patient¹s freedom of choice. (See Greenfield's ruling.)
The order was issued by the NY Health Commissioner, Mark R. Chassin, MD, without a hearing or a review of patient charts, and became effective immediately. For one week, Atkins could not see patients. The airwaves of New York sizzled with arguments‹most of them indignant over the suspension. Atkins himself is host of the popular Design for Living show on WOR-AM.
The complaint against Atkins stemmed from a 9/14/92 incident. Ms. Vivian Coy, 76, was being given ozone therapy as part of her treatment for breast cancer. On that day, she experienced some blurred vision and weakness after the treatment. The Atkins staff, including a trained emergency physician, kept her in the office for three hours and then decided to call an ambulance. A New York Hospital emergency room attendant, Dr. Gennis, became alarmed about Ms. Coy¹s use of ozone and treated her for an embolism, which she did not have. On the next day, however, he made his complaint against Dr. Atkins to the Health Commissioner.
"Within months," said Monica Miller, a consultant to Dr. Atkins, "Dr. Gennis had given both TV and press interviews claiming credit for turning Dr. Atkins and his 'quackery' in to the State."
Summary suspensions are an extraordinary power given to the Health Commissioner to be used only in situations of "imminent danger to the health of the people." The charges against Atkins include gross negligence and gross incompetence on one occasion each. They are still due to be argued on September 15, 1993.
"The summary suspension appeared to be retribution for Dr. Atkins and his patient aggressively defending their right to choose," according to Ms. Miller. "Ms. Coy and over a dozen others of Dr. Atkins¹s cancer patients are terrified that they will have to leave the country to continue their life-saving therapies."
According to lawyer Sam Abady, "This abuse of power was clearly motivated by [NYS Health Commissioner] Mark Chassin¹s own orientation and self-interest."
Before assuming his government post, Chassin served as vice president of Value Health Sciences, a company that analyzed the appropriateness of claims for insurance companies, including alternative therapies.
Although the suspension brought a great deal of anxiety to the entire alternative cancer movement, especially in New York, it had one beneficial effect. As in the 1987 case, Schneider v. Revici, also argued by Sam Abady, the courts were compelled by the overreaching behavior of health bureaucrats to uphold once again the patient¹s inviolable right to medical freedom of choice. Judge Edward Greenfield¹s ringing words will have historic significance in helping to secure basic democratic rights for patients everywhere.
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