“Experiment” with homeopathy killed a cancer patient: Inquest

Doctor Peter Dingle at an inquest into the events that led to the death of his wife Penelope, 45 on 25th August 2005 revealed that he had argued with her decision to go for alternative therapies as her colorectal cancer treatment.

Dr. Dingle is a prominent toxicologist. Mrs. Dingle was diagnosed with cancer 2 years earlier and decided to go for nutritional therapy and homeopathy instead of traditional cancer treatment. Her family including her four sisters, Christine Hearn, Annemarie, Natalie and Toni Brown, after her death raised concerns that she may have been misled by her toxicologist husband. The sisters had a detailed look into Mrs. Dingle’s diaries and filed for an inquest into the cause of her death and detailed look into the care she received. The inquest was confirmed 18 months ago.

Mr. Dingle refuted the charges and said that he wanted her to have surgery right after she was diagnosed but she had refused. The Coroner asked him about not being more assertive and booking her for surgery. Dr. Dingle said that in face of his wife’s refusal for conventional therapy there was little he could do to force her. Mrs. Dingle eventually went in for surgery but the cancer had spread by then and she died in 2005. The claims that he planned to write a book on the cure of her wife with alternative therapies was also refuted by him at the inquest. A witness also testified that Mrs. Dingle had felt foolish and stupid that she took part in a “monstrous experiment” that reduced her chance of survival.

Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Dr Celia Kemp, in her opening address said that the main purpose of the inquest was to find out if tougher controls were needed for the homeopathic industry. Dr. Kemp revealed that Mrs. Dingle was a long time supporter for alternative medicine and was seeing homeopath Francine Scrayen to cure her infertility. In 2001 Mrs. Dingle complained to Ms Scrayen that there was blood in her faeces for which she was advised more homeopathic treatment. Two years later Mrs. Dingle was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Cancer surgeon Dr Cameron Platell says that at that point Mrs. Dingle had a good chance of surviving with surgery.

At that time the couple sought the advice of two other doctors Igor Tabrizian and William Barnes. Dr. Tabrizian practices nutritional medicine and he prescribed a diet plan and supplements for her which she followed. She ignored Dr. Barnes advice. He is general practitioner. The State Coroner Alastair Hope also heard that from diagnosis up to her emergency operation that came too late in 2003, Mrs. Dingle was exclusively treated by Francine Scrayen. Ms Scrayen says she had not advised her patient against conventional treatment and surgery. In her statement she also said that homeopathy cannot treat this cancer and she never misled her patient.

The inquest is looking into the actual role of Ms Scrayen, Doctors Barnes and Tabrizian in the matter of Mrs. Dingle’s death. Dr. Dingle’s influence on his wife’s choice of therapy is also under the scanner.

Australian Homeopathic Association Michelle Hookham in her statement said all practicing homeopaths are guided by a code of conduct and they need to be in the Australian Register of Homeopaths. They must meet the government endorsed standards of competency and have appropriate training. “Homeopaths shall do everything in their power as practitioners to improve the health and well being of their patients, attempt to minimize physical or emotional harm to patients and provide patients with reliable information and professional opinions in order to assist them to make informed decisions about their treatment,” she said. Francine Scrayen is registered with the Australian Register of Homeopaths.

The results of the inquest are expected in the next few months. Mrs. Dingle’s sisters feel that their effort to bring to light the need for control of alternative therapies has been fruitful.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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