Thursday, January 23, 2020

#2299: Richard Stephenson & the CTCA

Richard Stephenson is the founder of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), which is probably the most powerful backer of the quackery that is naturopathic oncology in the US. Stephenson founded the CTCA out of frustration with cancer care after his mother died of cancer, but confused “holistic” care with welcoming quackery, fraud and nonsense, and made sure to facilitate the incorporation of naturopathy and similar bullshit into CTCA from the start. Now, the CTCA does provide state-of-the-art conventional cancer care, but that care is integrated – sometimes almost seamlessly – with fraudulent nonsense, and Stephenson, despite his best intentions, is as such also partially responsible for ensuring that others will meet the same fate as his mother but with the addition of some meaningless wellness terminology at extra cost so that a slew of quacks and frauds can benefit from the tragedies. 

Treatments offered by the CTCA include acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, naturopathy – according to the CTCA “[n]aturopathic medicine can help reduce these [cancer-related] symptoms, strengthen the immune system and support the healing process throughout your brain cancer treatment, claims that are so bland or meaningless (“strengthen the immune system”) that they are probably not legally actionable – homeopathy, reflexology, aromatherapy, myofascial release, hydrotherapy and mind-body medicine, including Reiki (faith healing with an orientalist touch) and Qigong. They also, of course, provide a lot of nutritional advice, which is generally fine, but includes fair amount of quack talking points (e.g. the ridiculous lie that conventional medicine doesn’t care about nutrition – you see: making it sound like only alternative practitioners do would be an effective way of legitimizing their woo; rebranding scientific therapies as “integrative” is actually a big thing) and even appeals to superfoods, no less. And telling cancer patients that “nature heals through the response of the life force” really shouldn’t inspire confidence (it's exactly as based in reality as an appeal to midichlorians would have been). You can read a more detailed description of the quackery endorsed by the CTCA here.

Just as woo is integrated into cancer treatments in CTCA hospitals, so it is integrated in the organization’s national leadership, which includes:

-       Katherine Anderson is the National Director, Naturopathic Medicine and also Director, Naturopathic Medicine, Southwestern Regional Medical Center; 
-       Timothy Birdsall, no less, is the Chief Information Officer. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone more explicitly anti-science (he doesn’t think he is) and a stauncher advocate for special pleading on behalf of woo than Birdsall;
-       James Rosenberg, National Director of Chiropractic Care;
-       Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine; 
-       Katherine Puckett, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine, and Director of the Department of Mind-Body Medicine;
-       Karen Gilbert, National Director of Oncology Rehabilitation, who also prides herself of being certified in auriculotherapy

Importantly, Stephenson is also one of the primary funding sources for the wingnut Tea Party organization Freedom Works, and yes, it’s relevant (and no exaggeration): Stephenson’s for-profit hospitals, while offering real treatment, also sell unscientific nonsense and woo to people in the most vulnerable positions imaginable, and then use the profits to fund wingnut causes.

Diagnosis: Though they do offer what appear to be state-of-the art treatments, you should be very, very careful about the advice they give you. Stephenson himself is probably more confused than evil, but that doesn’t make the sorry state of affairs at the CTCA any less sorry.

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