2004-08-21 18:27:13 UTC
Sydney Morning Herald - December 30, 2000
Cancer sufferers have died after putting their faith in a device with
electrical parts worth just $15. Ben Hills reports.
The doctor said he might not see Christmas. It was the winter of 1996
and David Carpenter, a 69-year-old retired railway worker, had
inoperable cancer of the prostate gland. He had been sent home to die
in the village of Geurie, on the western plains of NSW, in the fibro
cottage where he lived with his wife of nearly half a century, Madge,
and his son, Des. As the disease inexorably advanced, he took to his
Flicking through Nexus, an alternative magazine published from
Mapleton, Queensland, which features articles on UFOs, miracle cures
and conspiracy theories, Des saw an advertisement headlined "Rife
Underneath was this claim: "A brilliant new Walkman-style personal
therapy system, offers a comprehensive range of frequencies from
common colds and flu to the most serious debilitating and degenerative
diseases, including arthritis and cancer."
Des rang the 1800 number in the ad and was assured that not only would
the device, called a Personal Electro Therapy or PET machine, treat
his father's cancer, but it could be tuned to frequencies that would
cure his own chronic fatigue syndrome and his mother's arthritis. "I
wouldn't normally fall for something like this, but you have to
understand we were desperate," says Des. He and his mother borrowed
money against their invalid pensions and sent $1,425 to a company
called Electromed (Australia) Pty Ltd, which sent them a small black
box decorated with flashing lights, some wiring, two nylon pads and a
copy of a book, The Cancer Cure that Worked - Fifty Years of
Suppression, by an American "investigative journalist", Barry Lynes.
At first it did appear to work. With daily applications of the pads to
his abdomen, David's cancer went into remission, he regained his
appetite, got up and threw away the pills his doctor had given him.
Des even wrote Electromed a testimonial to the "miracle cure".
But then the cancer returned with a vengeance, spreading to other
parts of David's body. By the following August, Madge and Des were
burying him in the Dubbo cemetery. He had become another victim of a
device that has been branded in America as "health fraud in its
darkest form" - one of at least four people, including a child of
five, who have died in Australia and New Zealand after giving up
conventional therapy for treatment with Rife machines.
A Herald investigation has uncovered a cottage industry in Australia
promoting these devices for treating the most lethal illnesses,
including cancer, leukaemia and AIDS. Two companies are manufacturing
and selling them, and at least a dozen clinics, some operated by
qualified doctors, offer Rife therapy at up to $80 an hour to
desperately ill patients. There are about 60 Internet sites devoted to
the devices and innumerable books and magazine articles.
The most-publicised death to date was that of Liam Williams-Holloway,
a child on New Zealand's South Island, who was being treated with
radiotherapy at a hospital in Dunedin for cancer of the jaw. Last
year, there was a public uproar when the boy was taken from the
hospital by his parents and treated with a Rife machine at the Rainbow
Health Clinic in Rotorua.
The boy died in a Rife clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, after his parents
sold their house and embarked on a futile round-the-world search for
an "alternative" cure. Liam's former doctor, Michael Sullivan, a
pediatric oncologist at the Dunedin hospital, said he would have had a
"60 to 70 per cent chance" of a cure with conventional therapy and
said he had other patients who had been reduced to "a horrendous
condition" by the "therapy".
Although unanimously condemned as worthless by mainstream scientists
and banned in at least two American States, the highly profitable Rife
industry is flourishing in Australia because of a lack of effective
regulation, says John Dwyer, the head of medicine at Prince Henry and
Prince of Wales teaching hospitals in Sydney. He blames this on
"buck-passing" among no fewer than five government agencies supposedly
responsible for protecting health consumers (see "Nothing to do with
us, say agencies") which have failed to act against promoters of Rife
machines and other "cures" he regards as quackery.
The device was invented a century ago by Albert Abrams (1864-1924), an
American physician who became a millionaire and was branded by the
American Medical Association "the dean of gadget quacks". His theory
was that every medical condition was caused by an organism that had a
specific frequency - by building a machine to generate and beam that
frequency back into the body it would be destroyed, much as an opera
singer can shatter a glass.
His research was refined by a Californian pathologist, Raymond Royal
Rife (1888-1971), and a New Mexico chiropractor, James Bare, who drew
up tables giving the frequency of 30,000 organisms they said caused
every condition from dandruff to leprosy, strokes and syphilis. AIDS,
for instance, is said to be cured by a frequency of 2,489 kilohertz in
as little as three three-minute sessions.
Electronics Australia magazine, which has been campaigning against the
gadgets, analysed one and found that it consisted of a nine-volt
battery, some wiring, a switch, a timer and two short lengths of
copper tubing - components worth about $15. The electrical current
delivered was "almost undetectable" and unlikely even to penetrate the
skin, let alone kill any organism.
After falling out of fashion, the devices have been revived in the
United States over the past 20 years, promoted in conjunction with an
early edition of the Lynes book. Later editions contain an appendix
entitled "The Exploiters" in which Lynes says: "Sadly, in most cases,
the cancer patients lost precious time - three or four months - before
recognising that they had been swindled in a clever marketing scheme.
People died because they had faithfully used the worthless black box
instead of orthodox or alternative, non-conventional cancer therapies
which actually worked."
In Australia, the first known Rife device was built about 1989 by
Geoffrey Charles Baker, 47, of Terrigal, a former CSIRO researcher
with no medical qualifications who says he spent $3 million over seven
years developing it. Baker told the Herald he built the device with
the help of the executor of Rife's estate and it "saved my life" when
he suffered a prolonged illness from mercury poisoning.
Baker has been selling the devices - he would not say how many - since
the early 1990s. At first he was in partnership with a now-bankrupt
"herbalist, numerologist and astrologer" named Eilleen Whittaker, who
claims to have cured Kim Basinger's dog Bee-Bop of leukaemia. In more
recent years Baker has been a principal of Electromed, the company
that sold Des Carpenter his PET machine.
Baker admitted that, with no acceptable scientific evidence, he had
been advertising that PET machines could treat arthritis and
"recurrent viral or bacterial infections". But he denied he ever
claimed it could cure cancer.
That is not how a number of people remember it. Carpenter says Baker
provided him with a machine "specifically tuned" to treat his father's
cancer. Greg Ray, chief-of-staff of the The Newcastle Herald, quoted
Baker in 1993 as claiming his machine would "rid Australia of cancer"
- an article Baker never challenged. In a tape-recorded speech Baker
gave the same year to a patients' group on the Central Coast he makes
clear and repeated references to curing cancer.
Baker also claims in his advertising material that his machine has
been "tested" by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Federal
agency in charge of medical devices. The TGA denies this. It says the
PET machine had been "listed" - but never tested for effectiveness -
in 1996, but that listing was cancelled last April.
Herald: What would you say to people (like Carpenter) who would say
that you are a quack who is encouraging people to give up legitimate
therapy in exchange for expensive treatment by a bogus machine ?
Baker: I'm sorry, but they are entitled to their opinion and you are
entitled to yours.
One of the clinics offering "Bare-Rife Therapy" is Complementary and
Ecological Medicine, which operates from offices on the Pacific
Highway in St Leonards.
On its Web site it says: "While we offer no 'cure' for cancer, there
are treatment options available today which can increase life
expectancy and life quality."
It then gives three case histories of cancer patients said to have
been treated with the clinic's Rife machine: a woman of 53 suffering
from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, now pronounced "free of cancer"; a woman
of 27 with a tumour of the neck and chest, who had been given only
days to live but survived and returned to work; a man of 64 now
apparently cured of prostate cancer.
The clinic's director, Pauline Rose, who has no medical degree, could
cite no peer-reviewed, double-blind clinical trials to support these
claims and said treatment with her New Zealand-manufactured Rife
machine was "experimental". Her cancer patients had continued with
conventional therapy, so she had no idea what caused the "cures" -
"Did the power of prayer cure her? I don't know."
In the US, two States, Wisconsin and Minnesota, have taken tough
action to put Rife machine operators out of business. In one case,
Shelvie Rettmann, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, was fined $US100,000
($178,800), ordered to refund money to all her patients and banned
from the health care industry after two people she was treating with a
Rife machine died of cancer.
Attorneys-general of the two States issued a public warning that the
therapy amounted to "health quackery at its worst" and said: "The
bottom line ... is that [Rife] devices have no value for diagnosing or
In Australia, says Dwyer - who has examined one of the machines and
found it medically worthless - nothing has been done to put Rife
operators out of business, or to warn the public of the dangers.
"Regulatory authorities and politicians tend to put the problems
associated with false advertising into the too-hard basket," he says.
"Medical boards, health complaints commissions, even the Therapeutic
Goods Administration, all want to pass the buck to each other when it
comes to investigating and prosecuting this dangerous anti-science."
Four months after he received an official complaint, the NSW Minister
for Fair Trading, John Watkins, has promised to assign a senior
investigator to see whether promoters of the Rife machines should be
challenged to justify the claims made for them.
But that, of course, is too late for the grieving family of David
Nothing to do with us, say agencies
Cheryl Freeman, a nurse from Dudley, near Newcastle, has been
campaigning against Rife machines - and other bogus medical devices -
for several years. "I am just sick of the run-around I have been
getting ... No-one seems to be interested in protecting sick and
vulnerable people," she says.
She originally wrote to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission
which is charged with protecting patients against medical malpractice.
The commission replied that it "only investigates those complaints it
considers most significant in terms of the issues facing the overall
health system" such as "alleged sexual misconduct". It passed her
complaints to the NSW Medical Board and the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The medical board wrote to Freeman that because of recent changes to
its legislation "the board no longer has the power to deal with
unregistered persons who advertise cures and offer cancer treatments".
So whom could she go to? "It is not yet clear who will be responsible
for prosecuting these matters in future," the board said.
The ACCC said that it had recently taken action against bogus medical
devices including Giraffe World's "negative ion mat", a laser
hair-removal clinic, and the Raylight "parasite zapper" that claimed
to cure AIDS.
However, the commission said it would not act against Rife machine
promoters and suggested Freeman contact her local consumer protection
She wrote to the Department of Fair Trading in July but, four months
after the complaint was referred to its "rapid response and
assessments branch", Freeman had heard nothing until the Herald took
up the case.
Finally, she wrote to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is
responsible for regulating all medical devices sold in Australia. Make
that used to be. "Electronic health devices were excluded from the
TGA's control" in 1998, wrote the agency. It suggested she contact the