A doctor who says she is “dedicated to the natural treatment of cancer” has been ordered to appear before the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday to explain the death of a toddler from an unapproved drug.
Martha Grout MD, who left Florida 20 years ago after catching flak for her alternative methods, nevertheless holds a current Florida license. The incident occurred at her alternative medicine center in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she practices “homeopathy,” a style of medicine that is not legal in Florida.
Update from Friday's meeting here.
Homeopathy, which dates back more than 200 years, involves giving a person a diluted dose of a substance that would be harmful if given full-strength. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says “there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment” for any illness.
Grout’s attorney, Allen Grossman of Tallahassee, says in a letter to the Florida board that Grout doesn’t expect its members to agree with her methods. But he added that she expects the board “will not attempt to impose personally or professionally held opinions as to the appropriateness of her alternative medicine practice in Arizona…”
Grossman says it wouldn’t be right for Florida to impose discipline on Grout beyond what she was given in Arizona last year. There, the Arizona Board of Medicine gave her only a reprimand – no suspension, no probation, not even a fine. Grout holds a separate license from the Arizona Board of Homeopathic and Integrative Medical Examiners, which has not disciplined her in the case. Florida and most other states do not have such a board.
The case presents an intriguing dilemma for the Florida board, which is meeting near Orlando. It tests the question of whether Florida, which filed a complaint against Grout because of disciplinary action imposed in Arizona, is constrained in its own discipline.
Grout wants to maintain her Florida license, even though Grossman’s letter says she has no plans to return to practice here. Records show she was an emergency physician at several hospitals in the Sarasota area between 1992 and 1997, when she moved to Arizona.
The Florida Department of Health and Grout have signed a proposed settlement of the case with a “letter of concern,” which is less stringent than a reprimand; a fine of $2,500, and a course on laws and rules in medicine. Members of the board can accept or reject the settlement; if they reject it, they can propose a counter-offer. If the counter-offer is unacceptable to Grout, she can insist on the state proving its case in a formal hearing. It may present logistical problems to DOH prosecutors to bring in witnesses from other states.
According to the “findings of fact” by Arizona authorities, the case involved an 18-month-old girl in Maine who was suffering from a rare form of eye cancer, called retinoblastoma. After her doctors in Maine removed her right eye in February 2013, they suggested follow-up tests and chemotherapy. Instead, her parents took her to Grout’s center in Scottsdale, the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine.
In medical board records in Arizona and Florida, the child was called MM, by her initials. But she was identified as Mercy Maynard of Dexter, Maine, several months ago in an online article “Deadly Medicine” by Emilia David. The writer, who was then a graduate student in journalism at City University of New York, has now graduated.
Arizona medical board records say Grout gave the child 3.4 milliliters of amygdalin orally on March 13, 2013 at 3 p.m. as a homeopathic treatment for the cancer. Around 5:15 p.m., Mercy’s father called, saying she was crying, bloated and short of breath. Grout told them to return to the clinic.
But soon after they arrived, the records say, Mercy went into cardiorespiratory arrest. Grout called paramedics and provided cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the child, records say, but had no pulse when paramedics arrived. Aggressive resuscitation at the hospital failed and Mercy was pronounced dead shortly before 8 p.m.
Mercy’s father refused consent for an autopsy, but the Scottsdale Police Department overruled him. The autopsy report said the cause of death was undetermined, but a medical consultant to the state later concluded that Mercy died of cyanide poisoning as a result of the amygdalin that Grout gave her.
In its Aug. 8, 2014, letter of reprimand to Grout, the Arizona Medical Board said she violated the standard of care because she hadn’t tried all the currently accepted mainstream medical treatments before trying amygdalin. Also, the board said she should have made sure that the substance would not harm the patient.