Stem Cell Snake Oil

The following story recently ran on 60 Minutes. It was brought to my attention by secret skeptical agent, Blue Orange. Blue Orange is a friend of ArealGirl and I hope to meet her someday!

The investigative reporter goes undercover with some men who have the disease, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS damages the neuromuscular system. It is debilitating and deadly. It causes weakening and eventual paralysis. Most die within approximately five years.

Sad enough right? Well, it gets worse because you guessed it, charlatans are preying on these poor people with a new kind of pseudoscience involving stem cells. 60 Minutes followed one quack doctor (who isn’t actually a doctor) by the name of Lawrence Stowe. I’m very pleased that 60 Minutes exposed the story but horrified at how even when confronted with a hidden camera footage and the investigative reporter, Mr. Lawrence refuses to stop trying to sell his $150,000 treatment! He basically says the men with the disease are better off going broke buying his bogus treatment then having no (false) hope at all. So be sure to watch to the end to see what a complete jerk this guy is. Cognitive dissonance by a quack doc or complete and utter vicious-douchebaggery? You be the judge.

If you can’t see the video, click HERE for part 1 and HERE for part 2.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Well, that was deeply upsetting.
    And I guess that’s some sort of salesman tactic? Just never leave? I’ve had a few car salesmen try that – just hover and hover. I guess just charging forward in the face of your own lies is supposed to make you seem more confident.
    And finally: what a douchebag.

  2. What are the SkepChick rules regarding commenters correcting bloggers spelling? Accepted? Accepted through gritting teeth? Eternally banned?
    Just asking…

  3. @SkepLit: Thank you! I fixed it. I just get so darned excited when I start a post that I miss things like that. If spell check doesn’t catch it, I’m doomed. Thank you for letting me know. I hope it didn’t take away from the overall message.

  4. @Amy: Oh no! It didn’t take away from the overall message at all. I’m totally pissed! (And that’s “pissed” in the American sense of the word, Rebecca. I haven’t been drinking at work. Today.)

  5. Doesn’t this damning 60Minutes piece show how dangerous it is to be scientifically illiterate? I can’t say that I’ve followed every stem cell development over the last few years, but I certainly have never heard that it can do anything as miraculous as cure ALS or MS.

    I’m also always shocked at how little fact-checking people do. We have access to more information than any group of humans ever, in the history of the world. Why not quickly google the treatment you’re about to pay $40,000 for?

    Still, I guess when you’re desperate…

  6. @ishmaeldaro:

    You’re getting dangerously close to blaming the victim. It’s not about them being desperate; it’s about people taking advantage of people in desperate or vulnerable situations. This happens a LOT to the elderly.

  7. What marilove said. People in constant, chronic pain and illness do not always have their critical thinking skills tuned up. There are many reasons why intelligent chronically ill people may fall prey to this kind of thing and while I would like to see skepticism address this problem with greater compassion, the larger problem is that quacks like these exist in the first place. It makes me fucking batshit livid.

  8. I’m so fucking angry, I’m close to tears after watching that. I hope Stowe and Morales spend a very long time in jail for fraud and practicing medicine without a license. Unfortunately, since they perform all the procedures in Mexico, I don’t know if they’ll be able to nail them on the latter.

  9. Saw this on Sunday and thought SBM would be right on it, but glad you wrote about it here. Despicable people that needed exposure. Loved it when Scott called the guy a con-man right to his face. Priceless. We need more of that with these vultures.

  10. @ZenMonkey: Exactly. It just really bothers me that the *first* people many think — including many skeptics — isn’t, “Wow, these monsters taking advantage of people are horrible scum.” But rather, “Wow, I don’t understand how people can be so desperate as to fall for charlatans!” It seems minor, but it’s important. The blame shouldn’t be on the vulnerable; the blame should solely be on the thieves.

    I mean, heck, isn’t there at least one Skepchick poster here (I cannot remember who, right off hand, as I have yet to have my coffee) who admits to being super, duper gullible, and that she uses Skepticsm to help guide her?

    What happens if she were to get a debilitating disease? Or in old age gets Alzheimer’s? Skeptics aren’t necessarily immune to this stuff, you know, especially if we’re no longer young and of sound mind.

  11. My stepmother has ALS. Has had for several years now.

    There is no end – NO END – of people who prey on ALS patients. My father and stepmother spent tens of thousands of dollars traveling to various snakeoil salesmen, going to faith healers, etc, all to no avail. She is now entirely paralyzed, on a ventilator, and waiting for Jesus to heal her.

    On the one hand, it’s ridiculous that they’d try so many wacky things to heal her. On the other hand, she was diagnosed with a terminal disease for which there is no cure and no treatment in Western medicine. It’s not like there were scientifically sound treatments that they ignored… those treatments just don’t exist.

    From the patient’s point of view, then, they have nothing to lose but money.

  12. I actually was crying at the end of it. Through the rest of it, I went back and forth between anger so bad it made my head hurt and disgust so bad it made me queasy. Lunchtime was a bad time to choose to watch this. Thanks for posting it, though. Yet another answer to “What’s the Harm?”.

  13. Until there’s a cure for shithead sociopath douchebaggery (SSD), stem cell or otherwise, people like this should not be allowed to interact with another human being. Let’s send this guy to the moon.

  14. @marilove: I believe Elyse has said that she uses skepticism as a guide to counter her gullibility. I agree 100%, given their position, these patients falling for the sales pitch is exactly what you’d expect. We can’t put the burden of skepticism on them. Stowe is a despicable, dangerous sub-human. His victims deserve our compassion and his potential victims our protection, not judgment.

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