Hamer’s House of Horror

Celebrity doctors Dean Ornish, David Katz, and Caldwell Esselstyn to headline “cult-like” pseudoscience event next month

They are set to speak at the upcoming Lifestyle Medicine Summit alongside prominent anti-vaxxers and other proponents of “natural medicine.”

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The event is organised by the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation, whose website promotes anti-vax conspiracies, and states that cancer sufferers “are solely responsible for their own illness.” The website also lists outspoken flat earth conspiracy theorist David “Avocado” Wolfe as one of its “partner affiliates.”

The Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation was founded in 2016 by Munich native Johannes Fisslinger, inventor of the “Aura Video Station.”

Johannes Fisslinger (source)

Fisslinger previously ran the “cult-like” International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA).

A 2009 report by a Norwegian television station said that three cancer sufferers died after being advised by members of IMMA’s Advisory Council to stop conventional treatments.

TV 2, April 17, 2009 (source)

Both IMMA and the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation teach “the art and science of self-healing,” a highly speculative model of disease based on the discredited theories of criminal ex-doctor and virulent anti-Semite Ryke Geerd Hamer, who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.

Ryke Geerd Hamer (source)

According to Hamer, specific traumatic experiences cause specific physical symptoms. For example, a child raised by conservative, or “inflexible,” parents might develop rigid joints.

Medical authorities have widely denounced Hamer for his theories and illegal treatment of cancer patients, most famously in the case of six-year-old Olivia Pilhar.

Headline: A Dangerous Saviour – Once again, the judiciary has to deal with the controversial “cancer healer” Ryke Geerd Hamer, who is no longer allowed to work as a doctor or a naturopath. Nevertheless his followers trust him blindly.

Der Spiegel, August 9, 1997 (source)

The Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation itself recently attracted criticism when it held an event at Regent’s University London, a prestigious British university.

BuzzFeed, March 15, 2017 (source)

Speaking to BuzzFeed UK, British MP Matt Warman (of the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee), said that the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation promotes “unproven quack cures.”

In a separate comment, British pharmacologist David Colquhoun was even less sparing, calling Fisslinger’s ideas about disease “utter bollocks.”

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I asked Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, the famed American physician and one of 14 “visionary speakers” set to speak at the Lifestyle Medicine Summit, for his opinion.

In his reply to me, Dr. Esselstyn dismissed the criticism.

“A number of highly respected colleagues of mine have been on this program and like myself are eager that people should become acquainted with the hard science of proven research and evidence based scientific strategies,” said Dr. Esselstyn, adding: “I am simply not familiar with the observations you have sited [sic].”

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (source)

Someone who ought to be familiar with the macabre origins of the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation is Dr. Dean Ornish, best-selling author and White House policy adviser during the Clinton and Obama administrations.

In 2007, Dr. Ornish was awarded the distinction of “Excellence in Integrative Medicine” from IMMA’s defunct breast cancer research charity, the Heal Breast Cancer FoundationHe later appeared in Fisslinger’s 2010 film, Titans of Yoga, and was at one time slated to host the 2013 “Be Meta-Healthy Online World Summit.”

Last year I informed Dr. Ornish about IMMA’s association with Hamer, and asked him about his own decade-long association with Fisslinger, which he denied.

Dr. Ornish said his appearance at the Lifestyle Medicine Summit is not an endorsement of the views expressed by Fisslinger or the notorious Hamer.

Dr. Dean Ornish (source)

“I often speak at conferences – including prestigious scientific meetings – where I do not always agree with what other speakers, organizers, or affiliates may be presenting or with their views on other subjects,” said Dr. Ornish.

“I am not endorsing the conference or other speakers; I’m just presenting a summary of 40 years of research that I’ve directed, published in the leading peer-reviewed medical journals, in hopes that this may be helpful. I am responsible only for my own comments.”

Co-headlining the event is Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the CDC-funded Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centre and a vocal critic of the anti-vax movement.

Dr. David Katz (source)

In 2013, Dr. Katz gave a talk via Skype at the “Be Meta-Healthy Online World Summit,” videos of which later appeared on the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation website.

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Last year I asked Dr. Katz about his relationship with Fisslinger, IMMA, and the Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation. Dr. Katz said he had “no relationship with any of these people,” insisting that he’d “never endorsed any program or product of theirs.”

This time when I asked him about Fisslinger, he said he “didn’t know this was the same person” I’d asked about previously.

“A Skype interview sets a pretty low bar- I do not conduct a background check,” said Dr. Katz. “I can only ever take responsibility for what I say – and that I do.”

He continued: “I have heard questionable commentary at almost every conference I’ve ever attended- but I have never felt that speaking at the same conference implied my endorsement of commentary by others. That said, I do tend to know far better those with whom I interact in person. This was merely an interview, and I do several a week. Sometimes I know the interviewers fairly well, but more often I do not.”

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In my follow-up questions to Dr. Katz, I asked if he’d ever refused to speak at an event because of a disagreement with the scientific views of the organiser; and for his response to the argument that by speaking at a pseudoscience event he lends credibility to the organisers they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Here is Dr. Katz’s reply:

My only additional response to you at this point, Sterling, is that I have no better idea who you are, than who Johannes is. For all I know, you are his personal stalker.

He has only ever asked me about things in which I have a genuine interest, and invited me to discuss them unimpeded- whereas you have only ever asked me about him. Of the two of you, your behavior has been the more concerning to me.

I’ve asked Dr. Katz if he intends to ask Fisslinger about the issues raised in this post, but haven’t received a reply.

The Lifestyle Medicine Summit will take place between June 1–7, 2017. Speakers include retired surgeon and Quackwatch regular Dr. Bernie Siegel, prominent anti-vaxxer Sayer Ji, and Dr. Stephane Provencer, who practices “holistic child health care.”

The Macabre Origins of the Meta-Medicine Movement

The first in a three-part series charting the rise of the Meta-Medicine movement

If you’re interested in the often murky world of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), chances are you’ve heard of the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA).

Founded in 2004 by Johannes Fisslinger – inventor of the Aura Video Station – IMMA (via its online university, Meta-Health University) claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in “the art and science of self-healing,an elaborate philosophy of preventive health focused on diagnosing the root causes of disease.

The university’s faculty list reads like a who’s who of the contemporary CAM scene, counting among its guest speakers pediatric surgeon Dr. Bernie Siegel, celebrity nutrition expert Dr. David Katz, and biologist Bruce Lipton.

Via its non-profit research charity, the Heal Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF), IMMA has attracted Hollywood actors like Ben Stiller and Geena Davis, and garnered high-profile endorsements from Dr. Dean Ornish and self-help guru Eckhart Tolle.

Yet despite its penchant for attracting big names, little is known about the lurid origins of this self-proclaimed “revolutionary new healing paradigm.

The central tenet of IMMA’s philosophy of preventive health is that the body is capable of healing itself naturally. The claims are based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a German doctor who lost his licence in 1986 as a result of extreme misconduct.

IMMA posits the onset of disease as occurring when a person suffers sudden or prolonged emotional trauma; to “self-heal,” they must overcome this trauma.

To understand Hamer’s theories, or by extension those of IMMA, you have to start with the story of Hamer’s son, Dirk.

Dirk Hamer and the catalyst for the “Germanic New Medicine

In August 1978, while napping on the deck of a yacht in the Mediterranean near Corsica, Dirk Hamer was shot by the last crown prince of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy. Dirk died four months later.

According to his official online biography, a short time after Dirk’s death, Dr. Hamer discovered he had testicular cancer. At around the same time, Dr. Hamer’s wife, Sigrid Oldenburg, discovered she had breast cancer.

Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer at his son’s funeral, 1978 (source)

Hamer attributed the onset of his and his wife’s cancer to the emotional trauma they had experienced as a result of Dirk’s death. He theorised that the most effective course of treatment would be to bypass conventional treatments and instead undergo a form of “natural therapy” to resolve the underlying trauma.¹

The theories Hamer developed during this period formed the basis for what would become the “Germanic New Medicine” (GNM), a speculative model of disease exploring the “interconnections and relationships” between “the psyche, the brain and the organ.”

According to one particularly fantastic claim, specific emotions are said to affect specific organs and bodily functions.

For example, a child who is forced to live under the conservative – or “inflexible” – rule of an overbearing parent might develop rigid joints. A recently-divorced woman might, in the absence of intimate physical touch, develop a skin condition. And so on.

Decades later, Johannes Fisslinger would integrate Hamer’s claim into IMMA’s trademark theory, the “organ-mind-brain connection.”

The “two phases” of disease, according to Dr. Hamer (source)

In 1981, Hamer submitted his postdoctoral thesis on the psychological roots of disease to the University of Tübingen with the objective of convincing the university to test his hypothesis on patients. The university rejected his thesis, citing flaws in the form and methodology.

Having failed to establish himself in academia, Hamer then tried to find evidence for the link between unresolved trauma and the onset of cancer and other diseases.

In 1982, he opened a private cancer clinic near Freiburg, Germany, where he began putting his theories into practice. 

Surviving accounts of his clinic, Sanatorium Rosenhof, paint an unremittingly bleak picture. To paraphrase a translated 1983 report featured in the German news magazine Stern:*

Around the dinner table sit Hamer’s patients, their bodies emaciated and swollen, their faces yellow from jaundice. They are deathly ill. Instead of receiving the proper medical treatment, they only sing and eat – for this is the course of treatment Hamer has prescribed, and they have faith that it will heal them.

Not surprisingly, this course of treatment was not effective, and of the 50 patients who were treated by Hamer at Sanatorium Rosenhof, only seven are thought to have survived.

Following the closure of Sanatorium Rosenhof by German authorities, Hamer opened an illegal clinic near Bremen, Haus Dammersmoor. Reports of patients dying again caught the attention of authorities, and Dammersmoor was forced to close.

In 1985, Hamer moved to the town of Katzenelnbogen, where he opened yet another illegal clinic, Amici di Dirk, which in German is “Freunde von Dirk,” meaning “Friends of Dirk,” after his late son.

The conditions inside Amici di Dirk – his third clinic in just over two years – were horrific. The clinic lacked staff, money, and basic medical supplies. Hamer was allegedly absent for days at a time, leaving patients alone without any medical assistance.

The following excerpts from interviews arranged by German journalist Aribert Deckers and carried out by University of Tübingen student journalist Silke Bauer with some of Hamer’s former employees, provide a chilling account of conditions inside Amici di Dirk.*

“I would describe my time with Dr. Hamer as a very chaotic and exhausting period. Chaotic because he had no money, because some days he lacked the money to feed our patients. It was hard to work there. He could not administer therapy because sometimes there were no drugs available to relieve suffering.”

– Mrs. M, former accountant at Amici di Dirk

“There was a young lady with us, a patient with cancer. She was accompanied by her brother. And one morning Dr. Hamer started his car and did not tell us where he was going or when he would return, and did not leave even a phone number, nothing.

“The brother came to me and told me his sister was in severe pain, and wondered where Dr. Hamer was. I told him: ‘I cannot reach Dr. Hamer, he did not tell us where he was going.’ The brother returned two or three times, saying: ‘My sister screams in pain!’ And I said: ‘I’ll call another doctor, it can’t go on like this.’”

– Mrs. Gemmer, former accountant at Amici di Dirk

“Dr. Hamer was particularly interested in one young patient. I think he had bone cancer and was in terrible pain. For days he banged his head against the wall, into the night. I said to Hamer: ‘Doctor, we have to give something against the pain, this is not normal.’ Hamer said: ‘For God’s sake, no! We cannot give an analgesic, this would change the blood values, the effect of healing would be compromised.’”

[Speaking about a female cancer patient who had been admitted into Hamer’s care] “I lifted the blanket on the bed and I could see that she had a big hole like a blow on the thigh, and you could see the bone. And there was no treatment.”

– Mrs. F, former nurse at Amici di Dirk

After Amici di Dirk was closed in 1985, German state authorities had had enough and revoked Hamer’s licence to practice medicine.

Since then, Hamer has been convicted and imprisoned for medical crimes in several European countries, and reportedly there’s a warrant for his arrest in Austria regarding a high-profile 1995 case in which he attempted to illegally treat six-year-old cancer patient Olivia Pilhar.

Olivia Pilhar in 1995, post-chemotherapy (source)

Meanwhile, medical authorities have widely denounced the former physician’s theories and practices.

In 1989, the Koblenz district court ruled that Hamer did not possess the mental capacity to grasp the ethical ramifications of treating patients using an unproven therapy.

In 2001, a Swiss study found “no evidence” to support Hamer’s “New Medicine,” which it called “dangerous, especially as it lulls the patients into a false sense of security so that they are deprived of other effective treatments.”

In 2004, The German Cancer Society offered its “expert opinion”: Hamer’s hypothesis lacked “any scientific or empirical justification.”

The final nail in the coffin came from Dr. Michael Reusch, president of the German Medical Association, who in a 2006 interview called it “a tragedy” that vulnerable cancer patients had been taken in by Hamer’s “charlatanism.”

Dr. Hamer in 2009 (source)

Despite these setbacks, Hamer continued to put his theories into practice,² amassing a criminal record that rivals Nazi scientist Gerhard Wagner. As it happens, Hamer – like Wagner – is a virulent anti-Semite.³

According to GNM proponent Ilsedora Laker, the 81-year-old Hamer now lives in Norway, where he continues to promote his discredited theories.

Click here for part two.

¹In a 1999 Radio Toronto interview, Hamer said he underwent surgery for testicular cancer at Tübingen University Hospital. While it remains unclear if his wife underwent similar surgery for breast cancer, Hamer reportedly said her death in 1985 was caused by her scepticism about the efficacy of treating disease using the methods prescribed by his “New Medicine.”

²With few exceptions, Hamer has been ignored by mainstream media, but German journalist Aribert Deckers states that the number of Hamer’s victims is in the hundreds.

³In a 2009 interview, Hamer claimed that vaccines are a Jewish conspiracy to implant genocidal “death chips” into the bodies of non-Jews.

*For continuity, English translations of interviews and news reports have been edited and condensed.

Update, 30/06/2016: This article originally stated that German journalist Aribert Deckers had estimated the number of Hamer’s victims “at around 150.” In fact, Deckers says he stopped counting in 2008, and that he believes the true number is in the hundreds.

This article has also been updated to properly reflect Deckers’ part in arranging the 2008 interviews conducted by University of Tübingen student journalist Silke Bauer with some of Hamer’s former employees. Transcripts can be accessed via Deckers’ comprehensive website on Hamer, deathsect.com.