Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Case of the Fatal Neck Adjustment

News, April 15, 2005

The Case of the Fatal Neck Adjustment

People don't want to know science. It's too technical. It's too difficult for the average person to understand, compared to the easy answers they can find in mysticism.

We often hear these excuses. But a landmark inquest in Canada shows that when science is presented clearly, it can be a powerful, convincing force, as a meeting of skeptics learned last week when it was addressed by lawyers Amani and Neil Oakley.

The Oakleys represented the family of Lana Dale Lewis at an inquest into the Ontario woman's death following a chiropractic neck adjustment. It was an unusual inquest for several reasons. For one thing it lasted a very long time — from 2002 to 2004. It featured epic legal battles, generated a great deal of media coverage, and its conclusions went against the interests of the chiropractic industry.

In short, the family won. The jury in effect determined that the chiropractor's actions led to the death.

The Oakleys were up against three sets of lawyers who represented the chiropractor, the chiropractic college, the chiropractors' association and the chiropractors' insurers — not to mention a seemingly incompetent and hostile coroner's office.

So how did this small, relatively inexperienced law firm manage to defeat the combined resources of the more experienced and better financed forces they faced?

Before becoming lawyers, both Amani and Neil Oakley had obtained science degrees and had worked in the field. This helped them realize, after they started to delve into the inquest's issues, that chiropractic has no solid science to support it. Rather than try to make a case for medical malpractice, as might have been expected, they presented to the jury the fact that there was no "medical" treatment involved here, only practices without scientific backing. During the inquest they drew on their research to discredit the witnesses called to support neck manipulations and they laid out before the jury the evidence that such adjustments were dangerous.

In her three-and-a-half hour closing argument, Amani Oakley chose to focus on the science, with detailed explanations of how the neck adjustment caused tearing in the artery that led to the stroke and why the alternative explanations by the chiropractors lawyers did not hold up rationally or scientifically. You can read the entire statement online at www.chirowatch.com/Chiro-Lewis/oakley-closing.html.

The jury apparently understood the science and, to the surprise and anger of the chiropractic opposition, was persuaded by it. You can read the jury's recommendations at www.chirobase.org/15News/lewis.html.

For skeptics it's an inspiring story which, as was suggested at the meeting, ought to be made into a movie.A full report on Oakley's presentation to the skeptics will appear in the next Skeptics Canada members' newsletter in June. In the meantime you can read about the case, which attracted international attention, at various websites: just type "lana dale lewis inquest" into a search engine.

Source: Skeptics Canada





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