Adler: No Way to Treat the Dying

What price do you put on hope? Is $3,000 a week too much? Said Nedlouf faced that question when his wife, Mary, was diagnosed with an inoperable recurrence of breast cancer in the summer of 2006. It did not at first seem like too much to spend on "bioresonance therapy," "quadrant analysis" and "autosanguis" treatments by Dr. Jarir Nakouzi, a homeopathic physician in Bridgeport, Conn. "Whatever that woman wanted, I would do it," says Nedlouf, a native of Morocco who met Mary at Disney World and lived with her in Orlando. Now, a year after his wife's death, Nedlouf thinks he made a bad deal. "He sold us hope that wasn't there," says Nedlouf, who has filed a complaint against the doctor with the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

But Nakouzi was the only one who was offering hope. By the time Mary saw him—after a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation—her cancer was incurable, according to her oncologist, Dr. Nikita Shah. At that point conventional medicine could offer only a remission that might last years, months—or weeks.

Nakouzi did talk about a cure, according to Said Nedlouf. "He talked about getting to the 'root' of the cancer, and that there could be as many as 20 roots," Nedlouf says. He recalls that Nakouzi took a history that went back to Mary's early childhood, focusing on emotional traumas and the deaths of people close to her, probed her with electrodes and prescribed a daily regimen of 30 to 40 pills and supplements. "He talked about eating healthy, using the right toothpaste," Nedlouf says, wonderingly. (Nakouzi declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation. DPH records show no past disciplinary actions against him.) Homeopathy, a longstanding alternative to standard medical practice that appears to be undergoing a revival, is described on Nakouzi's Web site as "based upon the idea of Similia Similibus Curantur (Like cures Like): A pharmacologically active substance … triggers a series of symptoms. These same symptoms in a sick person can be cured by giving micro doses of this substance." Dr. Jack Killen, acting deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, says homeopathy "goes beyond current understanding of chemistry and physics." He adds: "There is, to my knowledge, no condition for which homeopathy has been proven to be an effective treatment."

But hope, not proof, is what Mary Nedlouf wanted. On a visit, her cousin Mary Maynard expressed concern about her condition. "I am fine," she retorted. "I am being cured." Cancer, says Dr. Stephen Barrett, who runs the Web site, is a "fertile field for exploitation, because patients are so often frightened or desperate." By December, Mary's cancer had broken through the chest wall, covering her skin with an oozing sore. The hotel maids refused to touch her sheets, so Said washed them himself. A cancer-weakened vertebra fractured, excruciatingly. Finally Said stepped in. He called a halt to the treatments, after, he says, running up bills of about $41,000 (most of which he is disputing). When he brought her home, "it was frightening to see her," says Maynard. The sore on her chest was ghastly. She died a few weeks later.

Said Nedlouf doesn't blame Nakouzi for not curing an incurable cancer. He sees now that Mary's will to live may have tipped over into self-delusion. But is she to blame for that? Nakouzi's useless treatments, he says, "robbed me of precious time to console her, to come to closure, to prepare for her departure." And that seems like a high price for hope.

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