Edelson Center Closed after Three Suits
Alleging Fraud and Malpractice
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Three families have sued the Edelson Center for Environmental and Preventive Medicine and its proprietor, Stephen B. Edelson, M.D., of Atlanta, Georgia, for medical negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, battery, and fraud. The first suit, was filed in 2001 in Atlanta by a California couple, individually and on behalf of their 7-year-old son . The second suit was filed in 2002 by a Georgia couple on behalf of themselves and their 10-year-old son . The third was filed in 2004 by a New Jersey couple on behalf of their 6-year-old son . In October 2004, Edelson anounced that he was "retiring" from medical practice . The Center's Web site was taken down shortly afterward.
Edelson is a 1967 graduate of Tulane University. His curriculum vitae, posted on his Web site, stated that he completed a one-year internship followed by a one year of residency in obstetrics and gynecology. His processional memberships have included ten organizations listed on Quackwatch's nonrecommended list, and many of the diagnostic tests and treatments he offered are on our indexes of dubious diagnostic tests and questionable treatments.
Edelson's Web site offered information and treatment about autism, allergies, colitis, chronic fatigue, mercury and lead toxicity, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), ADHD/ADD, multiple sclerosis, multiple chemical sensitivity, and Parkinson's disease. In 2001, the site included 20 testimonial letters, four of which were for cases of autism. The home page carried a disclaimer that, "The following information is intended as material to inform and educate. There is no claim being made, in the therapy areas, of scientific validity, only personal experience. There is also no claim being made as to the superiority of these methods over any other. Therapy must be guided by your physician, not the information given in this material." However, disclaimers of this type do not usually protect wrongdoers against the consequences of their actions.
One service Edelson offerd for autism was chelation therapy, a series of intravenous infusions containing EDTA and various other substances. Because chelation has valid use in some cases of heavy metal poisoning, many practitioners falsely diagnose lead, mercury, or other heavy metal toxicity. It use against autism is based on the idea that the problem is caused by poisoning with mercury that chelation supposedly removes. This idea has no scientific validity [5,6].
In 1995, the Georgia Board of Medical Examiners charged Edelson with (a) failing to document an initial physical examination in a patient's chart and failing to have adequate progress noted in another patient's chart, which constituted failure to conform to minimal an acceptable standards of prevailing medical practice; and (b) failing to keep adequate records of narcotic drugs prescribed for himself and members of his family. The case was settled with a consent agreement under which he was fined $5,000 and placed on two years' probation with a condition that he not perform chelation therapy except in cases of heavy metal poisoning, unless done as part of an approved clinical trial . A few months later, based on the Georgia action, New York State issued a censure and reprimand and placed him on probation . When Georgia's probationary period ended, he was no longer restricted. However, in 2004, the Georgia board reprimanded him again, ordered a fine, and placed him on indefinite probation.
The first lawsuit charged that:
- Edelson represented himself as an "expert in the biology of autism" even though he has no formal training in pediatrics or developmental disorders.
- Edelson improperly claimed to have shown that autism's cause is "a toxic one."
- His Web site suggested that his treatment can normalize the brain functions of autistic children and has a high success rate.
- After the boy's mother indicated on an application form her willingness to spend "whatever it takes" to make their son well, Defendants recommended that the boy undergo a battery of diagnostic tests for which they were charged $11,720.
- After receiving the test results, Edelson recommended that the boy undergo a lengthy and expensive course of chelation therapy and intravenous gamma globulin treatment, followed by "detoxification" with dietary supplements.
- Edelson represented that if the boy did not receive the recommended therapy immediately, his brain would be damaged, but that with treatment he might be "cured" of autism.
- The treatments involved repeated anal suppositories and probes, daily multiple intravenous treatments with frequent changes of needle sites due to technician errors, and an expensive regimen of dietary supplements.
- Defendants insisted that the recommended supplements be purchased through the Center, even though some of them were available through health-food stores and other suppliers at far lower prices. When the mother confronted Edelson about why she could not purchase the supplements elsewhere, he replied, "I have to be able to make a profit on this somehow."
- The child received no benefit from the treatment and regressed from the progress he had made through standard behavioral and educational therapy. He also developed neutropenia, a condition in which the number of white blood cells becomes abnormally low.
- None of the treatments the boy received has been accepted by the scientific community as effective against autism. Nor has autism been shown to have a "toxic" basis.
The second suit charged that:
- Edelson promised a high probability of success while warning that failure to undergo his treatment soon might lead their son to develop Parkinson's disease.
- Although the defendants quoted a $7,000 price for testing, the fees requested after the family arrived at the Center totaled $11,000.
- To obtain the tests, defendants drew approximately 20 tubes of blood from the boy in one sitting, causing him to lose consciousness.
- On the first day, before the test results were in, Edelson diagnosed the boy with "neurotoxicity," "allergic diathesis," and "hyperactivity."
- The treatment involved "detoxification," ozone, chelation and I.V. vitamins administered by unsupervised workers who apparently have no formal nursing training or professional license of any kind.
- The daily treatments were painful, involving multiple intravenous administrations with many changes of needle sites due to technician errors.
- The boy was also required to endure multiple daily sessions of sauna "sweat" therapy, followed by intense exercise.
- The nutritional supplement regimen included approximately 70 pills and capsules per day, which cause him to vomit after ingesting them.
- The boy also had adverse physical and behavioral reactions to the ozone and sauna detoxification therapy.
- Instead of improving, the boy's condition became much worse. He lost approximately thirty pounds and reversed progress he had made through behavioral and educational therapy.
- To pay the total cost, which exceeded $40,000, the parents had to mortgage their home.
The third lawsuit charged that:
- Edelson first saw the boy at age four years. Edelson told Mr. and Mrs T that autism has a toxic basis and that everybody who undergoes his treatments gets better, but if treatment were not begun right away, the autism would become "permanent" when the child turned six.
- Edelson had tests performed on 20 tubes of blood and reported that the boy's body had been "damaged immensely by poisons" and needed biodetoxification, chelation, and nutritional therapies beginning with seven weeks of daily treatments. Although it represented a financial hardship, the family paid $43,700 in advance for these treatments.
- The treatments were difficult and painful, involving multiple intravenous treatment (chelation therapy) with frequent needle changes due to technician errors. The nutritional regimen included about 50 pills and capsules a day, which often caused the boy to vomit.
- During the 7-weeks of treatment the boy's condition worsened, he lost much weight, and he reversed gains previously made through behavioral and educational therapy. However, Edelson did not personally monitor the child's progress.
Attorneys Elizabeth T. Kertscher and Douglas R. Kertscher represent the plaintiffs, and Robert S. Baratz, M.D, D.D.S., Ph.D., is a consultant and expert witness. The first suit was settled with undisclosed terms. Georgia's licensing database indicates that on 12/23/02, Edelson settled a malpractice suit for $180,000. It doesn't state which suit was involved, but I believe it is safe to assume that it was the first autism suit. The other two suits were settled with undisclosed terms.
In April 2004, the Georgia State Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded Edelson, fined him $1,000, and placed him on 3 years' probation after concluding that he had been inappropriately self-medicating and had become addicted to benzodiazepine sleeping pills. Documents in the case indicate that from January 2000 through about half of 2001, he had (a) written prescriptions for himself, (b) used another doctor's name to obtain prescriptions by telephone, and (c) written prescriptions in the name of employees for his own use. The board also concluded that he had had failed to keep adequate records .
The ozone generators that Edelson used to administer ozone treatments lacked FDA approval and were imported illegally. In September 2004, federal officials raided Edelson's and seized two such devices .
In October 2004, Edelson posted a letter to his Web site stating:
Because I do not practice "standard medicine," it is easy for the FDA, the Georgia Medical Board, and patients who do not see immediate results, or the extent of the results we had hoped for, to attack me. All of this has taken a tremendous toll on me and my family. . . . I have begun the process of closing my clinic and transitioning into retirement .
Not long afterward, his Web site was shut down. I think it is amazing that he blamed everyone but himself for his legal difficulties.
- AB and WB individually and as next friend of their son ... a minor v. Dr. Stephen B. Edelson and the Edelson Center for Environmental and Preventive Medicine. In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, filed October 2001.
- SM and TM, individually and as next friend of their son ... a minor v. Dr. Stephen B. Edelson and the Edelson Center for Environmental and Preventive Medicine. In the Superior Court of Fulton County, State of Georgia, filed December 2002.
- DT and LT individually and as next friend of CT, a minor, v. Stephen B. Edelson, M.D., and the Edelson Center for Environmental Medicine, Inc. In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, filed September 2004.
- Edelson SB. Letter to patients, Oct 13, 2004. Edelson Center Web site.
- Barrett S. Misconceptions about immunization: Thimerosal causes autism; chelation therapy can cure it. Quackwatch, April 20, 2002.
- Green S. Chelation therapy: Unproven claims and unsound theories. Quackwatch, revised March 28, 2002.
- Georgia State Board of Medical Examiners. Consent order. In the matter of Stephen B. Edelson, M.D. Docket number 94-569, filed April 6, 1995.
- New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct. In the matter of Stephen Bruce Edelson, M.D., Order BPMC #95-190, Aug 23, 1995.
- Public consent order. Georgia State Board of Medical Examiners. In the matter of Stephen Edelson, M.D, Docket No. 110020064, April 1, 2004.
- Ozone devices promoted as cure for autism. FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Fiscal Year 2005 report.
This article was revised on September 5, 2006.