With a survey of later developments
Recently I saw my ex-wife again. She was dying. The hot August sun shone through the thin curtains, just as it had done when our daughter was born, eight years ago.
We were just married then. An exciting dream. The atmosphere in our home was sweet and victorious on the day that she came up the stairs with the results of a cervical smear. It was PAP-5, unquiet cells in situ. Right away the doctor called too, to make it clear to me. 'Immediate danger of cancer', he said, 'but no reason for panic. Cervical cancer can be effectively prevented in this stage by removing a conical piece of tissue from the cervix. That's called conisation. I can recommend a good gynaecologist'.
I looked at her, hopeful again. She had sounded alarmed when she came in, but now her voice changed into a howl of despair. 'To the hospital? Getting an operation? Come off it! Do you know what that means? They'll take out my womb!' She threw her eyes up to the ceiling, wide open with fear.
I countered that our family doctor was an anthroposophic physician, not the kind that are fond of unnecessary operations, so if he advises to do it, it's not some superfluous joke. 'An operation weakens your natural resistance, and taking out your womb is disastrous. How can I be a woman then?'
What's the alternative, I asked. Death? Our child tottered towards us, with the pitter patter of its feet that the neighbors below complained so much about. We couldn't postpone moving out to some cute green suburb much longer.
'No', she said with shiny eyes. 'There is another way. Macrobiotics'. The same evening she made an appointment with the macrobiotic counsellor who had shown her this path five or six years before. 'He can be exceedingly clear', she lectured me. But how could macrobiotics cure her now when she had been following this diet so long already?
I couldn't talk her out of it. First the consultation, and operation remained an option for later. I wasn't comfortable with this. I thought it better not lose a minute. The sooner the intervention, the better chance that the reassuring words of our family doctor would come true. Well, four days then. Four days of anxiously waiting for the counsellor to agree with the advice of the doctor.
I almost jumped on her when she returned home from her visit to the East West Center on the Weteringschans in Amsterdam, the macrobiotic nerve center (it's called the Kushi Institute now). It is run by Adelbert Nelissen.
'Adelbert says there's time', she said gravely. 'He says, "Flora, there's time. You haven't been sticking to your diet". He examined me in detail. He took an hour. Afterwards we talked about the causes. It's my food pattern. Too yin'.
I adored her. Now I was flabbergasted. Why run a risk like that, when a small operation has an almost 100 per cent chance of succeeding? 'They take my womb out'. But wouldn't it suffice to remove merely a tiny piece of flesh? That was what gynaecologist Weber said, who stressed that we shouldn't wait more than two weeks.
'You are anaesthesized, and when you wake up you don't know if you still have your womb', had been Adelbert's warning. This wise man had repeatedly pointed out to my wife that doctors do everything for money, even unnecessary operations, just as long as they can write out bills. He himself had only charged 100 guilders (45 euro) for his consultation. Was this macrobiotic leader medically competent? Oh yes, he had been reading lots of books about medicine and macrobiotics. And he had been working in this field since the 1970s. His wife gave cooking lessons, and they had many children who were all very healthy because of their macrobiotic education. That was the opinion of the patient at my side, and it was no use arguing.
When Dr. Weber's two weeks had passed, Adelbert didn't think that there was any urgency. Flora really should try sticking to her cancer diet, consisting of whole wheat, some cooked vegetables and beans with gomasio(1) and algae.
The person I shared my meals with chewed every bite a hundred times. Then she visited gynaecologist Aartsen of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital.(2) Her lady friends said that Aartsen had a very balanced attitude on the subject of operations. 'When you don't want an operation', Aartsen said, 'then that's your responsibility. But it's my responsibility to advise you to choose an operation. It's still possible. When I let you go without any further appointments, it may take some years before you get into big problems. Maybe. But it would be very nice if you had more then eight or ten years to live. How old are you now? Almost 37? Isn't that a bit young? Oh sure, I know of one case of a woman who didn't have an operation, and who still lived quite long after that. Some psychological factor is involved. But it's only that one case'.
Could we return in one year, just in order to check whether the diet had worked? He looked grey and sharp-featured. Reluctantly he accepted. I thought of Laurie Langenbach, a friend I had met in the middle of 1980s in a natural-food store. She had spent a long time meditating in a Japanese monastery, chewing rice, fighting her cervical cancer. She was pale and frightened. A year afterwards I was invited to her funeral. Macrobiotics has lost the battle with cancer.
One and a half months had passed since the PAP-smear. Flora had pinned all her hopes on a macrobiotic weekend that Adelbert and his wife had organized in Schoorl, a small village in a wooded area near the North Sea. A famous Belgian macrobiotic physician would be there. He was very commonsensical, really good, a fantastic man and very spiritual. His name was Marc Van Cauwenbergh. She would have an opportunity to talk with him privately.
'No', I said, 'have an operation! Now. Think of our children'. (Plural, in addition to our little daughter, she also had another small son and an older daughter.) When she ignored my advice, I told her again, every day - until she became angry and asked me stop repeating myself.
I repeated myself many dozens of times that winter. I called in relatives and friends - maybe not enough. I should have been tougher, dragged her to the hospital. A wad with chloroform to her mouth, in the cab and onto the operation table. But how to do that? A person's body is inviolable; that's in the Constitution. I agree with that, alas. But now a creeping attack was under way on the future of my children. Shouldn't I do something?
The clock ticked on.
I called Adelbert, on an evening that Flora wasn't home. I told him how much I worried. Could he not stimulate her more to get treatment? 'Don't panic', the earpiece said. 'Macrobiotics always works against cancer. Just read the excellent book by Kushi, in which ten former cancer patients explain how they were cured by the diet'.
'I read that book, Adelbert'.
'Read it again!'
I once more stressed his responsibility. He thought Flora herself was responsible.
A golden opportunity arrived. The great Kushi himself was in town to give a lecture. 'There is one sovereign remedy to get rid of cancer', he confided to us afterwards, smiling delicately. 'That's trekking across the Himalayas with a sack of rice on your back'. She chuckled. I covered my face.
Relatives and friends approached her with warnings. They were warded off with a hesitating announcement that she would soon visit the hospital. That was the last they heard from her. Our family doctor had also fallen from grace. I asked him to give her a call. He had already tried to do so several times. In vain. 'The only thing I can do is to warn you for your marriage'.
The web of allies that I had tried to construct became thinner and thinner. Anyone who wasn't macrobiotic went out of favor. The contact with her friend Evelyne, a volunteer working for the Kushi Institute, became ever more close. She emphasized that my wife had the right to tackle her disease in her own way. She understood my worries, but I was not allowed to judge.
Originally I had thought her interest in macrobiotics appealing. Lots of Japanese ceramics. Eating with chopsticks. I like brown rice with gomasio and I have vegetarian inclinations myself. How much wheat isn't sacrificed to let those stupid pigs stuff themselves? But I underestimated the deep conviction behind it and the fierce ideological conflicts it generated. Macrobiotics is the belief that there was once a happy paradise with healthy macrobiotic people eating healthy stuff. Somehow a fall from paradise occurred, and the consequence is a process of biological degeneration, caused by the consumption of cola, fruit juices, sugar and lots of meat. This causes a spiritual and physical decay.
'People nowadays start to resemble devils, and modern society is becoming hell', the pope of macrobiotics, Michio Kushi, says in The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health and Happiness (1977). He means this pretty literally, because he inserts an illustration of a head with small pointy ears, supposedly the head of a 'weak personality' with weak kidneys as well, because of too much animal food and lack of minerals. 'Lost paradise', it says, in case you don't get the message, 'can be regained by a correct lifestyle which includes correct eating practices'.
The ultimate cause of decay is that people have lost the feeling for the right balance between yin and yang. So people eat either too much yin or too much yang. What kinds of food are yin and what kinds are yang, people like Kushi or his predecessor George Oshawa can tell you in all detail, including the nefarious effects of the wrong combinations. Combining leeks (yin) with honey (yang) will result in acute pain, at least in normal healthy people. When I tried it, I didn't notice anything.
It's remarkable that this philosophy with its spiritual pretenses rests on such rigidly materialistic underpinnings: 'people are what they eat'. Kushi's general guideline is that when we feel frustrated, confused or when we experience adversity, we always should ask ourselves 'what we ate today'. My ex-wife also did that, and when I said 'rice, miso soup and aduki beans', it was the wrong answer. The right answer was: 'I had French fries half a year ago'.
If we would all return to the correct way of eating, then our blood and body would become healthy and that would promote our mental and spiritual well-being. Consequently, our bodies would remain healthy and immune for serious diseases. No crazy ideas can enter our heads nor would any other evil befall us.
'Why don't you get an operation', I persisted, 'in combination with your diet?"
'There you go again! Don't you understand that the cancer would return after a few years and that my natural resistance would be broken by the operation?'
In a booklet by Kushi, the one Adelbert had mentioned in our telephone conversation (Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer: Towards Preventing and Controlling Cancer with Diet and Lifestyle), a translation of which had been published in 1977 by the East West Center, this view is explained. Kushi says that 'we must think of the cancer as an effort of the body to redress an unbalance. The poisons from all organs concentrate. By removing the cancer these localised toxins disperse again through the body and so become the root cause of either a different disease or another localisation'.
So the cancer should certainly not be seen as enemy. 'Now, to conquer the cancer it is of prime importance to not disturb this natural mechanism by removing or destroying the tumor'.
I knew these damned texts by heart by now. What could I do?
She promised that she would have herself examined again, this time by a 'magnetic healer' in Muiden, a very spritual man. It wasn't so much the 300 guilders (about 135 euro) he charged for each laying on of hands that worried me, but the three months he was taking for this. Another three months' delay.
When the year had passed, I reminded her of the promise to Aartsen. Well, we always could that. The hospital wouldn't run away. No, in Antwerp, in Belgium, there was a very able macrobiotic healer: Rick Vermuyten. We should visit him first, to see what he had to say. It would cost 250 guilders (over 110 euro), but that couldn't matter much, would it not? No, it wouldn't matter.
She returned with the magnificent advice that she should express herself more artistically. She should play the flute. She bought an alto flute and a music stand, but after a few months these disappeared from our living room. Sensible advice again ignored! Small wonder that she started to feel tired and listless. She had headaches too.
Then we visited a fantastic naturopath in Hoorn and, on the advice of a gifted clairvoyant in Breda, we went a number of times to Tiel, to the headquarters of Jomanda.(3) Flora maintained that Jomanda would help her with her healings. Every Sunday evening we listened to the Jomanda's broadcasts on Radio Noordzee. We kept a bottle of water on permanent standby, so when the medium broadcast her spells, the water could be irradiated and become a medicinal fluid.
She didn't merely rub the water over the area of the disease, but over all small wounds and contusions. Very handy, this water. When once the TV didn't work, she sponged it with the same water, and it worked again. Meanwhile two years and six months had passed.
One day I woke up and smelt something smoldering. I followed the scent to the kitchen, where my wife was standing in front of the stove. With a fork she was stirring greyish black powder in a round macrobiotic pan. She had a conspiratorial look in her eyes. 'What, are you frying my hair?' I asked, feeling my head. I felt a bald spot. She laughed. 'This is going to be a condiment. The hairs of a man harbor his thoughts and these cure his wife'.
I just laughed a bit too, more or less like Samson(4) must have laughed after his treatment. But back in bed I remembered the fanatical advice of Oshawa. He recommended, for example, that in emergencies one should catch a mole, fry it and eat it. The next morning there was a fresh bloodstain in the sheets. It was not her period.
I decided that a new alarm had to be sounded. I left home, and stayed with friends in town. From there I called friends and family, and told them that an intervention was urgently needed. I wrote to Flora that I wouldn't return unless she went to the hospital.
'Then divorce is the best option', she called through the telephone.
Maybe that was a sensible thought, but I considered the children. One evening I was back at the door. I also thought of faithfulness. An old-fashioned thought, but I hated the idea of a divorce. I imagined that even though I was very unhappy being with her, it really didn't matter with whom you were married. In last analysis, the other is only a projection of yourself, and another woman means a new confrontation with yourself. We hadn't been married three years yet, and the ardor I had felt for her wasn't extinguished. If I stayed with her, wouldn't I be better able to intervene on a decisive moment, than if I left her?
My feelings were confused. I wrote another letter to her, I sent a psychotherapist, and a physician masquerading as neighbor's wife. Nothing worked. One evening I was at the door again. She was glad. She was messing around with ginger compresses, because she had a terrible pain in her side. Could something be wrong with her kidneys? She had been racked by the pain, but it had lessened a little now. It had been so bad that she had called the doctor, and he had told her to go to the hospital. She almost did. Why hadn't she, though? Because, she said, the ginger compresses worked so well.
Kushi recommends ginger compresses for cancer patients, especially when they have pain. These must be directly applied to the parts affected. I helped her dip the towels in the hot ginger soup and rub her swollen waist.
'You can see with your own eyes how healthy I look. You simply talk nonsense!' she had said to me just before that. It was still ringing in my ears. I felt horrified, but I kissed her, when it was still possible. It clearly was her left kidney. But the pain lessened, and this she attributed to the ginger soup.
For a change I asked her: 'Don't you think the time has come to let a medical specialist examine you?' Maybe, but in three weeks Adelbert would offer a very special course in Utrecht, and she really had to take that course first. But before that time came, she started bleeding again, even worse than before. 'Call Adelbert!' she cried. She was firmly determined not to see a doctor. Moments later Evelyne rang the doorbell. She brought a special condiment that Adelbert had prepared: freshly roasted gomasio with an extra dose of salt.
The extreme yang character of the salt would counter the bleeding, which is of course a yin process. I received an urgent message that I really should learn to cook in the macrobiotic way, and that I should stop eating cheese sandwiches at work. Husband and wife should eat the same. Don't you know that the aim of marriage is that husband and wife achieve the same acidity level in the blood by eating the same food, and thus become immune to diseases?
Indeed, the bleeding stopped for some time, even though I was eating more cheese sandwiches and even though I once fed her a totally unacceptable bowl of soup with yoghurt in it. 'Have yourself treated in the hospital', I whispered when she woke up. 'Oh no, then I'll get blood transfusions. Then I'll lose all spiritual powers I have collected through the years by eating macrobiotically! That would be very bad'. She removed the diapers from between her legs and slammed the door of the bathroom.
"If you go to that course without going to the hospital, you don't need to come back," I thundered through the door. Then I was gone!
The July sun was shining hot. The car stopped in front of the house and I helped her get in, with mixed feelings. The bleeding was less, but it hadn't stopped. Would this be her last ride? Her lips were pale. I still felt a threat looming, but I also felt relieved that she would now enter another theater and that someone else would be responsible. From a distance I could try to wait for an opportunity.
At the same time I disagreed with her leaving. She shouldn't go to the Kushi Institute's course somewhere in the forested hills east of Utrecht, no, she should go to the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital. By the shortest route. I called, after I had let the children drink some milk (wow! 'Don't you know that milk is only suitable for calves?'). A lady named Jeanne van den Heuvel answered the phone, a 'dietary consultant' from Belgium that she had visited before. 'She isn't doing so badly; now she is sleeping peacefully.'
But wasn't she there to take a course? I wanted to come. No!, my wife let me know. An hour after that I thought, I'd better go, somehow I will get through. But then the phone rang and a voice from Drakenburgh, the place where she stayed, told me that my presence was desired, to have a talk with Adelbert Nelissen.
A radiant Wieke Nelissen, Adelbert's wife, offered me a glass of kuzu juice.(5) I declined. We sat in a circle, and my spouse had also joined us, ashen-faced. 'My co-workers here are my best forces', Adelbert said, with a broad arm gesture. 'We all agree that a more vigorous approach is called for'.
Yes, I said, that means that she should now go nonstop to the hospital to have herself examined by a gynaecologist.
'That's what you think, but that isn't necessary yet. What's really necessary is that she sticks firmly to her diet, that you start cooking macrobiotically and that you won't eat any cheese sandwiches anymore. That's the reason why our efforts didn't succeed'. 'Are you out of your mind, arrogant bastard!' I shouted. I walked over to him and smashed him in the face.
I cannot remember having ever done such a thing. I still feel deeply satisfied. I repeated my demand that they would take her to the hospital and I left. In the bus I let scraps of the conversation pass my mind. 'Didn't Kushi recently let his own wife, Avelyne, take radiation when a beginning of cervical cancer was discovered? Kushi himself, after he had advised countless women against this?' That is what I had gathered in the course of many telephone calls to less rigid macrobiotic believers. 'Yes', Adelbert had answered, 'but he accompanied that with a special anti-radiation diet, which only I know'. Admiring looks all around.
The next morning I faxed an ultimatum. I announced that if my wife wouldn't be in a hospital within a few days, I would take legal action. I accused him of abusing his authority as director of the Kushi Institute, by systematically telling Flora that a macrobiotic diet, if perfect, would cure her. This advice is life-threatening, and the new Law on Professions in the Individual Healthcare(6) says that obstructing adequate medical care is a punishable offense. I translated everything into English, for the benefit of the Kushi Institute in Boston.
Then it happened. The Oudenrijn Hospital in Utrecht called to say that my wife had been admitted there. A very long letter by Nelissen, exonerating himself juridically and a letter from herself, apparently dictated by him, didn't change this remarkable fact. In the letter he babbled that 'by resting and by the macrobiotic condiments' the bleeding had stopped, and he rejected all responsibility for her condition. The letter also demonstrated that he always let patients sign a letter prior to a consultation, absolving him of any legal responsibility.
'In her condition', gynaecologist A. Planken diagnosed, there is a 30 percent chance that she will survive at least five years, if she accepts irradiation. There is a carcinoma of 13 centimeters, which has incapacitated the right kidney. She must have had a lot of pain'.
The irradiation could be done in the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, but she needed an immediate blood transfusion. She protested, but the next day I visited her and I saw a plastic bag with blood above her. She was very dejected. Walking in the garden she revealed to me in a thin voice that she probably would not submit to radiation therapy: the cancer would return anyway. She would refuse chemotherapy. 'The powers above just want it this way with me'.
'But what about the children?' I asked. 'Each year you live longer counts for them'.
Meanwhile the Kushi Institute was billing me. The thousand guilders (now about 450 euro) that she had paid for the delay in Drakenburg, were not enough. And if I didn't pay more, I could forget about the daily meal that was prepared specially for Flora as a condition of her cooperation with the hospital examination. I was also supposed to send a letter in which I would drop my accusations, otherwise the special diet would not be forthcoming.
She returned home. Would she have irradiation?
Adelbert had advised that she should 'convalesce' in a macrobiotic spa in Bathmen, near Deventer. Prior to that, I had to send a written statement that I supported this treatment. If not, the party would be cancelled, and she would definitively reject radiation treatment.
After three weeks her eyes were shining again, but for the rest it was a feeble and pale appearance that we took back to Amsterdam.
Three months of Bathmen, and then we'll see again, she demanded. We should sell the house to pay for that. Maybe also go to the Rocky Mountains. There is a vibrant colony of macrobiotic believers called 'The Walkers' there.
I refused. The family refused to furnish the money as well. Fortunately. Once a week I said: 'Have radiation therapy'. Not more often than that, so as not to sap her weak inclinations in that direction. At night I dreamt of a woman who was eating meat while the red juice squirted out and ran down her cheeks. On her side was a big glass of coke. What a delightful creature!
She heard about a macrobiotic woman of Haarlem who also had cervical cancer, and who took radiation therapy. She read the woman's diary. And finally I could visit her in the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital. Almost every day for six weeks she got a load of radioactive radiation. Something that can cause cancer would drive it away in her.
It succeeded. 'You are free of cancer, madame'. I was beside myself with happiness. We received a letter from gynaecologist Planken, who congratulated her in rejoiceful words. She wasn't interested, and dumped the letter among the old newspapers. The sound of Jomanda reverberated through the house.
You'll see that you grow old, I said. I knew it wasn't very probable, but I thought a positive attitude would improve her chances. She still had to have regularly scans made, and she noticed that the gynaecologists always remained cautious, even though the results of the scan were good. 'I'll never start chemotherapy', she emphasized. Her cheeks were red again.
'Does she think you were right after all, that she would have done better to go to the hospital immediately?' my sister asked. No she doesn't. And I didn't ask her in that manner. I asked: 'What logic makes you prefer six weeks of radiation therapy over a small operation?' She hadn't answered that. I thought I had saved her life, but I didn't say so. I didn't want to play the victor. I hoped that she would recognize that the years my actions had added to her life would be important, especially for the children. But she only said: 'You must think that you saved my life. But it was just my destiny. They from beyond think I should wait a little'.
We hardly discussed the painful meeting in Drakenburgh. She kept saying that I had severely misbehaved towards Adelbert, the man who had done so much for her. She had gone to the hospital completely of her own accord. I had told Evelyne that I did not want her to come to our house anymore, because she had contributed to the mortal peril of my wife. 'But it was always my choice', yelled Flora, and she complained that because of me all her macrobiotic friends had become estranged from her.
That was the point. It had been her choice, from minute to minute, from week to week, three full years, until Adelbert had become scared that her presence in his stronghold would cause him legal problems and consequently had brought her to the hospital. There a new lady friend of hers had advised an anthroposophical gynaecologist. It had been all her choice.
But at the same time she had been guided by a blind fear of the doctor. He would rob her of her womb, do a blood transfusion and bewitch her life. She would fall under an evil spell by the doctors, a power worse than death. She wouldn't have control over her life anymore, like she used to have with her brown rice and gomasio. That fear so dominated her that in fact nothing had been her free choice. These choices, for a new macrobiotic step every time, for again and again postponing the inevitable, they all hade been choices within the boundaries of her fears.
Macrobiotics kept her in the grip of fear of doctors. Its dogmatism not only justified her fear, but it also gave her the illusion that a cure was possible without a devil doctor. Again and again I found myself opposed to the macrobioticians, those who fed and exploited her fear. Not so much financial exploitation, but moral and ideological. The macrobiotic colonel used the fear of doctors to utilize her as guinea pig for his quasi-medical fantasies. He uses human imperfection to blame the failure of his method on the patient or her relatives, because they didn't follow his advice well enough.
Was Flora his only victim? Our family doctor, A. Dekkers, doesn't think so. Certainly not.
'I have to live on higher sandy soil', she said after another examination. Her health was OK then. After all the misery she was very busy with the children. But the theory that life below sea level constituted a yin dimension in her life that favored cancer, pushed her thoughts to the higher areas, that were so much more yang. According to Kushi she had a yin kind of cancer, so moving would restore the balance and be beneficial.
I didn't like it a bit. 'Then we must divorce', she said, standing in front of the stove, stirring the miso soup.
I looked at her, and in my mind I saw the provocative singer that she had been once, I saw the tender mother and I saw my lover. Then one morning I packed an extra bag.
I could have done this before, I wrote in my diary. But if I had done so, she would not have been in reasonable health now, and the children would not have had a mother. I had chosen the right moment. I had transformed the most difficult problem of my life into something positive, and now I could free myself of it.
'It's like a dream', she said, when I appeared two years later at her bed. She was sitting next to it, looking at her knees. Her pain was barely damped by the morphine. She took no pleasure in listening to music. I put my hands on her skinny shoulders. Her hair, once blonde and luxuriant, was now short and withered, and I thought of how it could turn to ash in a pan. For the first time after a separation of two years I saw her eyes. They had become yellowish around the pupils. These eyes looked at me questioning for just a moment, and then her gaze returned to her knees. Her head sank jerkily in the same direction.
I thanked her, with a leathery tongue, for my daughter, who is now living with us. In the front room I saw in a polished wooden bookcase the books on macrobiotics. They were at eye level. They seemed to be evidence for the cause of death. Silently I promised myself that next time I won't wait for three years before I hit someone.
Notes by the translator
1. Gomasio is a ground mixture of freshly roasted black sesame seed and coarse salt, to be used as condiment on rice etc.
2. The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital is a famous cancer clinic in Amsterdam
3. Jomanda at that time was a nationally known healing medium, a lady with Holy Mary pretenses who called on the help of invisible doctors from Beyond to perform mass healings on thousands of people simultaneously.
4. Samson is a character in the Judeo-Christian bible whose strength was related to his hair, which he had never cut. When he betrayed his secret to his Philistine lover Delilah, she cut it off, so the Philistines could capture him. (Judges 16)
5. Kuzu root is used as thickener in gravy, pudding etc.
6. This Dutch law replaced older anti-quackery laws. It allows everybody to offer cures. It forbids certain acts such as surgery, injection, internal examination and prescription of medicines to anybody but licensed physicians/dentists, but generally it leaves non-physicians pretty free.
The names Evelyne and Flora are fictitious. Translation: Jan Willem Nienhuys. English corrections: Ranjit Sandhu.
This article was published in the Dutch national newspaper Trouw, on September 5, 1998, and later in the quarterly Skepter of the Dutch organisation Skepsis. It caused a discussion in the newspapers. Some macrobiotic believers didn't like Adelbert Nelissen. Nelissen denied that he had influenced 'Flora'; on the contrary, he had advised her only twice and at his urging she had gone to the hospital. He repeated on several occasions that Flora simply couldn't be convinced by anybody and he also repeated that patients should be supported by relatives in their efforts to stick to a macrobiotic diet. Later he filed charges of slander against Van Duijn and others. Mr. Cor de Vrieze, acting chairman of the macrobiotic association, criticised Nelissen, and stepped down soon afterwards. It turned out that there were four cases similar to Flora's, one of them the Laura Langenbach case mentioned in the story above. On October 20, 1998, the life partner of Langenbach reported her case to the district attorney of Haarlem. On November 11 another victim filed charges. A dietary expert who had done a doctoral thesis on macrobiotics recalled how Kushi habitually blamed parents for poor results of the macrobiotic diet of children.
Article 96 of the new Dutch health law says that whoever gives health advice to people should prevent damage as a result of taking that advice. The prosecution aimed at proving that Nelissen had violated this article.
An expert on religious movements analysed (in Trouw) the mindset of macrobiotic believers. Basically: sick people are criminals, and cancer is caused by egoism. All diseases can be cured except the arrogance of thinking that macrobiotics is humbug.
The health inspectorate explained that it has no means of controlling alternative healers. The disciplinary medical courts and the criminal courts only can mete out punishments afterwards. The inspectorate can close down a physician's practice if the physician seems to be a danger, e.g., if he is an alcoholic. For alternative healers there is no such possibility.
In the beginning of July 2001 Aveline Kushi died of cervical cancer, aged 78, after a struggle of nine years with this disease.
Nelissen was finally brought before the judge, on December 11, 2001. Only two cases were discussed, but in court one of them (not Flora's) turned out to be not very convincing. A woman with breast cancer had been so fearful of chemotherapy and radiation therapy after having seen her sister die of breast cancer, therapy notwithstanding, that even though Nelissen contributed to her death, he did not influence her decisions.
The prosecution asked for a punishment of 20 months in prison plus 10 months suspended. The court however judged on December 20 that Nelissen's lack of care (more specifically: deliberately neglecting to urge Flora to go to the hospital) only applied to the three months that her condition worsened quickly, culminating in the admittance to the Oudenrijn Hospital. The court judged that a relation between this specific negligence and Flora's death is not proved. Hence Nelissen was fined 2250 euro and given a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment, because he had a specific health-care duty. Nelissen appealed immediately, and he said that he did indeed urge Flora to go to the doctor. His attorney stated that, according to her, Nelissen is a food consultant, not a health-care provider, and the law doesn't specify any duties for him.
In a comment on the verdict, the chairman of the Dutch antiquackery organisation wryly stated that Nelissen is obviously a scatterbrain. The law isn't there to punish stupidity, and it is inconceivable to a regular physician that a fool like that could ever be considered a health-care provider. On the other hand, the sentence constitutes a signal that people with pretenses like Nelissen should be a bit more careful.
Mr. Cor de Vrieze also commented on the case. Nelissen had vigorously denied in court that he had kept patients away from the doctor, and his lawyer had claimed in a TV interview that the general opinion in macrobiotics is that cervical cancer must be treated by regular medicine. However Kushi writes in Natural Healing through Macrobiotics, 12th edn. 1991 (first printed 1978), that breast cancer, cervical cancer and skin cancer are easy to counter, and surgery and irradiation are to be avoided because they weaken the resistance against disease. In other words, if Nelissen urged Flora to take regular treatment, he was flatly contradicting the teachings of Kushi.
On March 20, 2002, the Dutch parliament voted in favor of a 'Kushi-law' proposed by the government. This law will permit that the practice of an alternative healer is closed down immediately on suspicion of a threat to people's health. It will not be necessary anymore to wait until a conviction in court is obtained.