Chapter Ten: Re-Enter the State Medical Board
After my 1976 confrontation with the Ohio State Medical Board, I heard nothing from them until September, 1978. I then received the following letter:
Dear Dr. Binzel:
We understand that you may be treating a patient with Laetrile who has Hodgkins Disease. Further, we understand that the patient has been diagnosed as being at least 50 to 60 per cent curable with current accepted treatment.
As you know, the use of Laetrile has been extremely controversial and has been under review by the Courts. We would appreciate your comments with respect to this matter.
Very truly yours,
William J. Lee
My reply to this was as follows:
Dear Mr. Lee:
In response to your letter of September 27th, it would be necessary to know the name of the patient to whom you refer before I can comment on the treatment that is being used.
I am quite aware that Laetrile has been reviewed by the courts. I am also aware that the legal status of Laetrile is covered by Federal Court Order #CIV-75-0218-B, April 8, 1977, of Federal Judge Bohanon of Oklahoma City.
Philip E. Binzel, M.D.
Federal Court Order #CIV-75-0218-B was the legal name of the Federal Court Order by Judge Bohanon which set up the affidavit system described in Chapter Five. Again, what this said was that any patient who wanted Laetrile could have it, and any doctor who chose to give it could do so, if the patient would sign an affidavit stating that he wanted it and the doctor would sign the same affidavit stating that he would give it. This Federal Court Order went on to say that any attempt by the FDA to prevent any patient from obtaining Laetrile, or any attempt by any State Medical Board to prevent any doctor from using Laetrile, would be considered contempt of court.
As seen in my letter, I did not outline these facts to the Medical Board. My thought was, "I'll give them the legal number and let them look it up for themselves."
Would you believe that I never received a reply to my letter?
It wasn't until January 30, 1990, that my next conflict with the Ohio State Medical Board began. On that date, in the middle of my office hours, a man walked into my office, handed Ruthie his card and demanded she let him see me now. On his card it stated that this man was an Enforcement Officer of the Ohio State Medical Board. From my previous experience with these people, I had him cool his heels until I got a break in my schedule. The "Enforcer," as he shall henceforth be referred to, told me that he had been sent to my office by the State Medical Board to immediately pick up a list of all of the patients that I had treated with Laetrile in the past five years. I told him that it was illegal for me to give anyone the name, address, telephone number or any information whatsoever about any patient without that patient's written consent. I explained that I would have to go through my records and contact each patient individually. This, I said, would take a considerable period of time. He left saying that he would be back in a few weeks.
During my conversation with the Enforcer, he volunteered the information that this investigation was probably started by a complaint from the Food and Drug Administration. He then added, "The Medical Board certainly wants to stay out of any trouble with the FDA." After thinking about this statement for a while, I began to realize how strange this whole thing was. After all, since 1977 all of the patients for whom I had prescribed Laetrile had gotten their Laetrile through the affidavit system. This meant that the FDA already had the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all such patients for the past five years. If it was the State Medical Board that wanted this information, it could easily be obtained from the FDA. The thought then dawned on me that it was possible that this investigation had nothing to do with names and addresses, but was merely for the purpose of harassment. Nothing that transpired afterwards caused me to change my mind.
That night I called my son Bill, the attorney. I told him what had happened. He said that, while he had worked only in Washington D.C. since passing the Ohio Bar exam, he still had all of his Ohio law books and would research this for me.
Within a few days I received a letter from Bill. In this letter, he quoted the exact sections of Ohio law dealing with this subject. The law said that any doctor who gave any information about any patient to anyone without that patient's written consent would have his license revoked. It went on to say that any third party who attempted to obtain such information was also in violation of the law.
Bill advised me that, since this was a verbal request and not a written request, I would be in violation of the law if I complied. Furthermore, he said, the law requires that the patient make an "informed consent." In order for the patient to do this, there were certain things the patient had to know, such as:
1. The specific nature and purpose of the inquiry.
2. Who originated the inquiry?
3. What will be done with the information provided?
4. Will I be contacted? If so, in what manner?
5. What specific information do you want from me?
6. Am I under any obligation to respond to the request?
7. Will this information be made public or used in such a way that it may be subject to becoming public?
Bill put all of this and a lot of other legal language in a letter he composed for me to send to the Medical Board. All I had to do was copy that letter, fill in the proper names and dates and send it to the President of the Medical Board. This I did. No reply to that letter was ever received.
About one month later the "Enforcer" was back. He used the usual routine no appointment, came in the middle of my office hours, stated that he was from the State Medical Board and wanted to be seen now! Again, I had him wait awhile. He told me he was here to pick up the list of the patient's names and addresses that he had requested the time before. The dialogue that ensued was something like this:
Me: I don't have a list. I never got a reply to my letter.
Enforcer: What letter?
Me: The letter I sent to the President of the Medical Board.
Enforcer: I don't know anything about any letter, but they never tell me anything anyway.
I showed him a copy of my letter and then asked him if he realized that, because there was nothing in writing, what he was doing was illegal. This puzzled him, so I read him the section of Ohio law which said that a third party requesting such information was in violation of the law. He said, "Gosh, I didn't know that! What are they trying to do to me up there?" He left with a very concerned look on his face.
On March 29, 1990, I received a subpoena from the Ohio State Medical Board requiring that by April 19, 1990, I provide for them the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the patients that I had treated with Laetrile in the past five years. It was obvious that I needed a local attorney. My family attorney, John Bath, had retired, so I called Judge Evelyn Coffman. Evelyn and I had been friends for many years. She had served on the bench as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for twenty-four years. When she left the bench, she went into the private practice of law. Bill knew her quite well and said that he would be happy to work with her in any way she wanted. I could not have made a better choice.
When Evelyn read the subpoena, she recognized immediately that it was deficient. The subpoena stated that it was issued "because of the following charges." But, there were no charges listed. Evelyn called the State Medical Board, which said it did not know what the charges were because they had been issued by the Attorney General's office. She called the Attorney General's office, and what she got mostly was the run-around "So-and-so is handling that, and he's not here. He'll call you back." Of course, he never did. Evelyn, because of her years on the bench, had some good connections in the Attorney General's office. It didn't take her long to cut through all of this red tape. She soon got to the individual who was handling this case. She told him that the charges against her client were not listed on the subpoena and that she wanted to know what they were. He said, "They are secret." She explained that as my attorney, she had the right to know what I had been charged with. His reply was that he had orders not to tell anyone.
A few days later Evelyn was able to get in touch with someone else in the Attorney General's office. She explained to this individual that it would be impossible for me to go through all of my records and get the information they wanted by April 19. She also stated that she had serious doubts about the legality of what the Medical Board was doing and needed time to research the law. She then informed him that, if the Attorney General's office insisted on the April 19th date, her client was quite willing to take the matter to court. Judge Coffman had spoken the magic word.
I had told Evelyn during our very first conference that I was not going to give in on this unless we took it to court and lost. I really wanted to take it to court immediately, but her cooler head prevailed. As soon as she said "court" to this individual, he backed off. He agreed to give us as much time as we needed and sent her a letter to that effect.
We had won Round One!
When I first consulted Evelyn, she told me that from here on I was not to see, talk with or have any contact with any Enforcer from the State Medical Board. Should one appear at my office for any reason, he was to be sent to her office. As expected, one such Enforcer did appear in my office on April 19th, the date stated on the subpoena. He used the same unannounced, belligerent, approach as those who preceded him. I went out to the waiting room to see him. Our conversation went like this:
Enforcer: I'm here to get the list of patients.
Me: I have been advised by my attorney that, whatever you want, you are to see her.
Enforcer: I want the list. Does she have it?
Me: I have been advised by my attorney that, whatever you want, you are to see her. Her name is Judge Evelyn Coffman and this is her address. Now, let me give you some friendly advice. Don't go busting into her office like you have done here. She was a Common Pleas judge for more than twenty years, and she's mean. If you go busting into her office, she'll probably have you thrown in jail.
An hour later I got a call from Evelyn. She said, "What did you say to that fellow who was in your office?" I told her. She said, "Well, I wondered. He didn't come to my office, but he called me. I could tell by his voice that he was scared to death." He had not been informed about the time extension.
We had won Round Two!
The battle then shifted. The next thing I heard was that, because I had not complied with the April 19th deadline, I must now bring the entire medical records (not just the names and addresses) of all of these patients to the Ohio State Medical Board offices in Columbus. They said that they would, as time allowed, make copies of these records and send the copies to me. You can imagine my response to this! Evelyn called them and explained that:
1. Because of the sheer weight of these records, it would be physically impossible for me to bring them to Columbus.
2. Because I was either actively seeing most of these patients, or advising them by phone or letter, not to have the patient's medical record available could endanger the health or the life of that patient.
3. If the State Medical Board insisted on this, we would take it to court.
Evelyn had, again, hit upon the magic word. They immediately backed down. After numerous conversations back and forth, it was agreed that the State Medical Board would send an investigator to my office and make copies of all of my Laetrile files. There were, however, some strings attached to this. Since I did not have a copying machine in my office, the Medical Board would have to bring its own. The Medical Board would have to pay for the space they were using in my office. The Medical Board would have to pay the expense of the office girl who was bringing them the files. The Medical Board would have to pay for the utilities used in this process. These payments were to be made in advance on each day that their investigator was here. If not, we would take the matter to court. Again, the magic word; and again, they backed down.
By October, 1990, the battle had shifted again. Having dropped the idea of copying my records, the Medical Board went back to trying to getting a list of the names and addresses. Because of a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision, it was Evelyn's legal opinion, with which Bill concurred, that I would probably have to supply them with the information they wanted. On October 15, Evelyn received a letter from the State Medical Board stating that an investigator from the Board would be in her office "at 10:00 A.M., on Friday, October 26, 1990, to review the list of names in compliance with the subpoena of March 29, 1990." Evelyn's reply, dated October 18, 1990, was as follows:
Dear Mr. Boatright,
In reflecting upon his responsibilities to his patients, Dr. Binzel recognizes also his responsibility to the Medical Board under the Ohio Revised Code and determines that he will compile a list of names, addresses and phone numbers as per the subpoena if the Board would be so kind as to do the following (and this would save the Board and the investigators's time going through the files):
1. Before the Board makes a contact with each patient the Board will give Dr. Binzel a ten day notice so that he might put the patient at ease as to the possibility of an investigation. This assurance Dr. Binzel would appreciate having in writing. I'm sure the Board can understand the trauma cancer patients are going through at best and that they need no further reasons of insecurity.
2. As soon as Dr. Binzel receives the foregoing documents he will have all names, addresses and phone numbers in the Board's hands within three weeks.
This letter was written at my insistence. Why? Because, for most cancer patients, their disease is very psychologically traumatic and very personal. They don't want to discuss it with anyone. The last thing they need is to be harassed about the treatment that they decided was best for them. One elderly woman, who would have been on my list, was very timid. I knew that if some Enforcer from the Medical Board confronted her, she would have been scared to death. She would have been sure that she had committed some horrible crime. She didn't need that.
Also, I had some patients who had stressed to me that they did not want anyone else to know that they had cancer. One was a woman with three small children, whose husband had left her a few months before. This had been very traumatic for the children. She went on to say that, if the children now found out that she had cancer, it would be more than they could handle. I could visualize some blundering Enforcer from the State Medical Board knocking on her door. Assuming that one of the children answered the door, he would probably say, in a voice that could be heard for ten miles, "I want to talk to your mother about her cancer!" This would have been devastating to the patient and to her children.
I had another woman who worked in a large office. Her immediate superior knew that she had cancer, but she did not want anyone else in that office to know. Again, I could visualize some Enforcer from the State Medical Board coming into that office and saying, in front of a large office staff, "I want to talk to Mrs. So-and-so about her cancer!"
In good conscience, I simply could not allow this sort of thing to happen to any of my patients. I felt that I was morally obligated to protect those patients to the extent that the law would allow. By setting up the ten-day period, as described in the letter, I could contact the patient first. I could then explain to my patients that they were free to give any information to the Medical Board that they wanted, but that they were not obligated to give any information at all, if they so wished. This would give patients, such as those described above, an opportunity to write or call the Board and refuse permission to be contacted in any manner.
I told Judge Coffman that this was as far as I would go. I had been pushed to my absolute limits. If, for whatever reason, the State Medical Board did not agree to her letter, in writing, that was it! There were to be no more letters and no more phone calls. We would go to court! Evelyn concurred whole heartily.
While Judge Coffman was in the process of putting this letter together, I called my State Representative, Mr. Joe Haines, in Columbus and asked for an appointment to see him. He told me that he would be in Washington Court House on the next day on other business and would be happy to come to my house. We set a time. I called Evelyn. She said that she would be available to come and that she and Joe Haines were long-time friends.
The next day Betty and I met with Joe Haines, his wife and Judge Coffman. I briefly went through my program of nutritional therapy and why I was using it. I then went into my conflict with the Ohio State Medical Board and why I did not want to give the names, addresses and phone numbers as demanded by their subpoena. Evelyn filled Joe Haines in on the legal procedures that had transpired. Joe listened intently but said very little. He did ask Evelyn some questions about the legal aspects of this. However, he did not say, one way or the other, whether he would even look into the matter. The only statement he made was that, in his opinion, the Medical Board would be making a big mistake by taking this case to court.
At 10:00 A.M. on the morning of October 26, 1990, an Enforcer from the Medical Board showed up in Judge Coffman's office and told her secretary that he was there to pick up the list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers that had been promised. Evelyn was out of town. The secretary didn't know what he was talking about. She called my home and talked with Betty. Betty told her to look in my file and she would find a letter dated October 18th to the Board. Betty told her that no reply to that letter had been received. The secretary remembered the letter.
Not having been there at the time, I can only relate to you the story as told by Judge Coffman's secretary. She said that she gave the letter to the Enforcer. He read it and asked if he could use the phone. She said that it was obvious from his conversation that the party on the other end of the line knew about the letter. The Enforcer's final comment was, "Why in the hell don't you tell me about these things before I come all the way down here!" With this, he slammed down the phone and left.
I have not heard from the Ohio State Medical Board since that day. I still do not know whether Joe Haines intervened on my behalf. I did see Joe at a meeting three or four months later. It was neither the time nor place to discuss this in detail. I did say to him, "Joe, I have not heard from the Medical Board since I last saw you." His only reply was, "No, and you're not going to!"