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Herbalist Sentenced to Jail After Treating Teen's Diabetes With Herbs

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On Monday, an “herbalist” who told the mother of a boy with diabetes to give him herbs instead of his prescribed insulin was sentenced to 120 days in jail. The 13-year-old boy, who had type 1 diabetes, died in 2014.

Timothy Morrow was found guilty of one count of practicing medicine without a license and entered a plea of no contest to one count of child abuse likely to produce great bodily injury or death. The medical examiner had determined that the boy, Edgar Lopez, would have lived if he had received proper medical treatment.

Morrow began treating Lopez for his type 1 diabetes after Lopez’s mother, Maria Madrigal, met him at his seminar about herbs, the LA City Attorney reported. He recommended Lopez use herbs instead of insulin to treat his diabetes. After Lopez became ill, Morrow went to their home in Los Angeles and again advised Lopez’s parents they should treat him with the herbs he was selling instead of insulin. Lopez died the next day.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without insulin, the body is unable to break down food into glucose. This causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream and leads to death if untreated. The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. However, people with type 1 diabetes who manage their condition with daily insulin injections typically go on to lead normal lives.

In court, Morrow’s attorney, Sanford Perliss, brought up Madrigal’s testimony about growing up in Mexico and using traditional remedies. Morrow had told her he had successfully treated his cancer without chemotherapy or radiation.

“Nobody held a gun on Edgar. Nobody held a gun on Edgar’s mom. Nobody stole insulin from that house so Edgar’s mom couldn’t use it,” Perliss said in his closing argument, NBC Los Angeles reported. “Edgar’s mom wanted to do what Edgar’s mom wanted to do.”

However, Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Heidi Matz argued that Morrow had given Madrigal “hope” that Lopez was going through a “healing crisis” that could be treated with herbs. Madrigal said Morrow told her not to trust doctors and that she felt “brainwashed” by him.

“Edgar died unnecessarily and today we are here for him,” Matz said.

In addition to jail time, a $5,000 fine and restitution to Lopez’s family, Morrow was also ordered to take down all videos and other media he posted espousing herbal treatments instead of traditional methods. His YouTube channel, “Common Sense Products,” features titles like “Drugs: America’s Curse” and “Shots, They’re Killing Me!”

People with chronic illnesses are often confronted with alternative treatment ideas like herbs and supplements, despite the fact that their illnesses are medically proven to not respond to these treatments. In her essay about why advice from non-doctors can hurt more than it helps, Mighty contributor Saidee Wynn reminded those who tout “natural” products that not every natural product is beneficial, and that patients can react to them differently. She wrote:

I know the popular belief is that traditional doctors want us to stay sick because they benefit off of us being ill, but practitioners of holistic medicine also benefit off of us being sick and needing repeated treatment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s typically not free to go to any kind of holistic practice and they typically don’t take insurance either, so it’s all out-of-pocket. Snake oil salesmen exist in all types of medicine.

Originally published: February 28, 2019
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