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Schiavo case doctor target of complaint

The doctor, who holds out hope for the woman in a vegetative state since 1990, has been accused of deceptive advertising.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2002

The doctor, who holds out hope for the woman in a vegetative state since 1990, has been accused of deceptive advertising.

CLEARWATER -- A neurologist who says a treatment he pioneered might help improve the condition of Terri Schiavo has been accused by the state of making unproven claims about the effectiveness of the procedure.

The Florida Department of Health filed administrative complaints against Dr. William Hammesfahr last year accusing the Clearwater physician of falsely advertising his treatment and exploiting a patient for financial gain.

Hammesfahr testified last week in a Pinellas-Pasco hearing to determine whether new medical treatments hold any hope of helping Mrs. Schiavo, who went into a vegetative state in 1990 after suffering a heart attack. The hearing concludes today.

A panel of the state Board of Medicine found probable cause to believe that the alleged violations against Hammesfahr occurred and the case went to an administrative trial in May. A recommended order by an administrative judge is pending. The Board of Medicine has the final say.

Hammesfahr "engaged in false, deceptive or misleading advertising" involving "a treatment that is contrary to current neurological knowledge," the Department of Health said in an administrative complaint.

Hammesfahr, who denies the accusations, faces a range of penalties if the judge finds he violated state rules, including the permanent revocation of his medical license.

That news was released to reporters Monday by an attorney representing Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo. He says his wife would not want her life extended under the circumstances and he wants her feeding tube removed.

Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, oppose him in a right-to-die case that has garnered national attention.

"I can't see how anyone could believe that Dr. Hammesfahr's treatment could help Terri Schiavo when the state of Florida in essence considers it to be bogus," said attorney George Felos.

Hammesfahr said his advertising claims have previously been found to be proper by state medical authorities.

Identical complaints about his advertising filed in previous years have been found to be without merit by the Board of Medicine, he said.

In addition, Hammesfahr said, Medicare officials have found his therapy medically reasonable and will allow payment for the procedure.

"If my therapy were not true, we would have been prosecuted criminally and an injunction filed against me by the state to stop me from practicing in Florida a long time ago," Hammesfahr said.

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