On May 24, 2019, the District Court (Landgericht) of Kiel, Germany ruled against naturopathic cancer quack Colleen Huber in a defamation lawsuit she brought against me. Huber filed suit in September 2017 over my opinions about the dubious treatments and human subjects research at her cancer clinic in Tempe, Arizona (USA), and also over my suspicions that Huber was cybersquatting domains in my name. I was represented by Dr. Daniel Kötz of the Law Offices Kötz Fusbahn, in Düsseldorf, Germany. Dr. Kötz specializes in protected speech, media, and competition law and is the only European member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. Huber was represented by Dr. Christian Seyfert of the Law Offices Zeller Seyfert in Frankfurt, Germany.
In a blog post from December 2016, I theorized that Huber or someone in her close orbit had registered domains using my first and last names to misrepresent my position on naturopathic “doctors.” You can view the archive of brittmariehermes.com from 31 March 2016 here. In my post, I also wrote about Huber’s dubious cancer treatments of intravenous baking soda, mega-doses of intravenous vitamin C, and a strict sugar-free diet. Huber advocates against state-of-the-art oncology, especially chemotherapy and radiation, because she thinks these therapies strengthen cancer.
History and summary of the lawsuit
I had never heard of Colleen Huber until February 2016, when I discovered that brittmariehermes.com and about half a dozen domains using versions of my name had been anonymously registered. Some of these domains forwarded to the websites of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. I called Wix.com, the company hosting brittmariehermes.com, and asked for the email address associated with the account. Surprisingly, a representative gave me an email address at natonco.org, the website for the Naturopathic Cancer Society, of which Colleen Huber is president and founder.
The Naturopathic Cancer Society is a non-profit organization that helps naturopathic patients raise money for alternative cancer therapies. Huber also owns a naturopathic clinic called Nature Works Best in Tempe, Arizona, where she treats cancer patients with her so-called “natural” therapies. Huber is also the secretary and founding member of a naturopathic ethics review board that goes by three names: Arizona Naturopathic Clinical Research Group (ANRI), Naturopathic Oncology Research Institute (NORI, and Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Perhaps Huber or someone in one of her naturopathic organizations was still fuming over an April 2015 blog post I wrote for Science-based Medicine detailing the ethical failures of that naturopathic IRB. I think, however, that it was a widely circulated post I wrote for KevinMD in late January 2016 about the dangers of naturopaths and their inadequate medical education, in general, that precipitated the domain registering spree a few days later.
Nine months after I wrote about the website debacle and Huber’s cancer quackery, she filed the lawsuit in Kiel shortly following a threatening cease and desist letter. Huber demanded that I remove my December 2016 blog post and pay her legal fees. She took issue with many points in my blog post, including my domain squatting theory and my discussion of the terrible quality of her cancer research using her patients as subjects. Huber claimed damages from my blog post of 500 euros! This amount roughly equals the cost of 2-3 intravenous injections of vitamin C by a naturopath. I chose to defend myself.
Huber attempted to have the court forbid me from writing the following:
- Is dubious cancer ‘doctor’ Colleen Huber cybersquatting my name?
- An Arizonan naturopath likely owns my domain name.
- The organization [Natonco] raises money for cancer patients who desire to use, but cannot afford, expensive alternative cancer therapies such as intravenous vitamins, mistletoe injections, and special diets, which is then funneled to Huber’s clinic Nature Works Best and others.
- [Thomas Mohr:] This is criminal. I agree.
- [Thomas Mohr:] If one removes data of questionable quality and takes into account only those with complete data and in treatment resp. died during treatment (i.e. in remission, not yet in remission, died), the odds ratio gets almost 10:1 in favour of state of the art therapy. This is really nasty. Indeed, her activities seem suspicious, especially when one looks at what her clinic is advertising based her “research”: Colleen Huber, NMD appears to be a cancer quack.
- Huber and these other naturopaths have perhaps found a legal loophole allowing them to blatantly mislead vulnerable cancer patients.
- As far as I can tell, Huber is the ringleader of what appears to be a naturopathic clinical trial and charity hoax.
The final hearing took place on April 3, 2019. During the hearing it became rather apparent that the judge was not having any of Huber’s lawyer’s legal theories. In a last minute attempt before the hearing concluded, Huber’s lawyer made a motion to accuse me of unfair competition against Huber. Per German law, this claim requires that I would be in a competitive relationship with Huber, so I’d have to be a practicing naturopath in the same geographical region as Huber and providing similar goods and services. When Huber’s lawyer noticed that he was not making ground here, he doubled down by claiming that Huber and I were competitors as public speakers! To put it mildly, the judge found these theories to be quite colorful and, rightly so, did not buy it.
In the end, the court fully ruled in my favor, stating that Huber’s points of contention were invalid because my statements were protected speech under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution.
The court concluded that Huber is a public figure as a so-called prominent naturopath in the USA and is therefore not immune from criticism. The court also recognized that naturopathy is a controversial field, especially for alternative treatments for cancer. My criticisms of Huber are therefore entirely legal. Furthermore, the court determined that Huber’s points of contention are my personal opinions and are not malicious. According to the German Supreme Court, an opinion which may include facts has to be judged as an opinion as long as one does not blatantly lie. I had reason to believe that Huber was cybersquatting domains in my name, which I phrased as an open question and not as a statement of fact. In an attempt to reveal the truth to the court, we requested a “subpoena” of the domain name registrant GoDaddy and the website hosting service Wix to provide the original owner of the domains and hosted sites. Huber opposed this motion and, per German law in this special case, the court was not permitted to force GoDaddy to divulge this protected information. Nevertheless, the court ruled 100% in my favor.
Huber has the right to appeal until the beginning of July 2019, which I would zealously fight.
Huber claims a 93% success rate treating cancer patients who follow her recommended no-sugar diet and naturopathic therapies compared to patients who stopped her treatments. This remarkable claim is based on a self-published study available on her clinic’s website, including data from over 300 cancer patients from 2006 to 2014.
Thomas Mohr, an oncology researcher in Vienna and friend of the blog, kindly reanalyzed Huber’s data and posted the results in a blog post comment. He found an odds ratio of 2:1 (95% confidence interval 1.01-4.40, p <0.05) in favor of state-of-the-art therapy (chemo, radiation, etc.). Mohr explains, “patients under natural care have more than a two-fold higher risk to die.”
Mohr continued his analysis by removing poor-quality data and including only those patients with complete treatment data. He found that the odds ratio then approaches 10:1 in favor of state-of-the-art therapy, meaning the risk of death with Huber’s therapies appears to be 10 times higher compared to those patients who left her practice to pursue conventional cancer treatments.
This is not surprising. In 2017, Dr. Skyler Johnson and colleagues found that the use of alternative medicine to treat cancer is independently associated with a greater risk of death compared to conventional cancer care. In 2018, Johnson et al. published more disturbing results. They found that alternative medicine use by cancer patients was associated with refusing conventional cancer care and a two-fold greater risk of death compared with cancer patients who used conventional therapies. This point resonates with the reanalysis of Huber’s data and would explain why she uses larger-than-life statistics to attract patients alongside her so-called charitable organization to raise money for her patients to pay for treatment.
A case study for Huber
It is worth focusing on one of Huber’s patients and associates: Rebecca Stephan, who reflects the great tragedy of naturopathic cancer quackery. I found Stephan through a GoFundMe page that was set-up by her sister-in-law to help raise $20,000 around February or March 2017 to support the expensive cancer treatments at the Nature Works Best clinic.
According to the story on the GoFundMe page, Stephan was diagnosed with mucinous ovarian cancer in 2016. She underwent surgery to remove the tumor followed by many hospitalizations due to complications. Her medical oncologist recommended chemotherapy immediately. However, Stephan and family members didn’t like this. They write, “[the treatment] didn’t make sense as she was continuing to lose weight after the hospital and her digestive system was continuing to struggle. She knew if she did chemo for the next 6 months it would continue to tear down her body and possibly kill her.”
My husband and I began to look elsewhere for natural treatment options and flew down to see Colleen Huber, NMD, Medical Director of Nature Works Best Cancer Clinic in Tempe, AZ. As soon as I met her I knew this is where I wanted to be treated.
Also, the percentages of doing treatment with Doctor Huber were better for me than with my oncologist. Unfortunately, because it is alternative medicine my insurance company denied paying for treatment at this clinic. […]
Our family decided to move to Arizona so I can be close to the clinic and Dr. Huber. This was difficult for me as we had to leave our 3 children in Colorado to finish up the school year. […] I received IV treatments 3 times a week. These IV’s included cesium, rubidium, sodium bicarbonate, germanium, B vitamins, Vitamin C, minerals, amino acids, selenium and glutathione. I was also placed on a very strict diet. I was not allowed to eat any sugar or anything that turns into sugar. Stevia was the only exception. I took extra herbs and vitamins that fight cancer and drank Essiac Tea.
After approximately 3 months of this regimen I had a full body scan done and was declared cancer free.
I am now the Executive Director for the Naturopathic Cancer Society. We are a charitable organization that believes people deserve the right to have a say in their own care. That is why we are dedicated to raising funds for those who have cancer. My goal is to pay it forward and create opportunities for others to have a choice to receive natural treatments if this is what they choose without facing financial concerns.
Please visit NatOnco.org to help a cancer patient like me today! All contributions are tax deductible.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the latest update from 15 months ago on the GoFundMe page reports that Stephan was not doing well:
Friends its with a heavy heart that I tell you Rebecca has cancer again! She is not doing well and the cancer has moved to other parts of her body! She has ask me to get as many people praying for her as we can. She is in a lot of unbearable pain and getting weaker. […] We don’t need any donations I just want to use this as a way to spread the word and pray for them!
I agree, we should spread the word.
It is important for cancer patients to understand the risks associated with using alternative therapies to treat cancer. Rebecca Stephan chose to receive implausible treatments from Huber based on Huber’s fanciful treatment success rates. This case illustrates a core issue with naturopathic practitioners. Naturopaths are not held to the same standards as science-based medical practitioners, so they can do and say whatever they want to keep business flowing.
I do not have any more recent information about Stephan’s health. I hope she is still alive and well. Unfortunately, Huber and her colleagues are still quacking all the way to the bank.
I was able to stand up to Huber’s legal thuggery because the science and skeptic communities rallied around me. The massive fundraising efforts, led by Australian Skeptics, Inc., allowed me to cover my legal bills, so I could continue my PhD studies and focus on my pregnancy and birth of a healthy baby girl. (I actually found out I was pregnant the same day I learned of the lawsuit.) It is emotionally and mentally exhausting to go through a lawsuit. I thank all of you who donated to my legal defense fund from the bottom of my heart. Since there is a chance of appeal, please stay tuned.
The problem with frivolous lawsuits that attempt to crush the right to freedom of speech is that they draw far greater attention to the issue than would otherwise be realized. It’s called the Streisand Effect. Colleen Huber chose to cross paths with me on a personal level, resulting in her exposing herself to criticism from skeptics and scientists who find her conduct reprehensible. At the same time, she unwittingly boosted my profile, which contributed to me being recognized last year with a John Maddox Prize for speaking out about the dangers of naturopathy and promoting science in the face of hardship.
Thank you again for your support! I have been quiet over the past year, but I am now gearing up for more writing projects and speaking engagements.