The consequences of being treated by a master herbalist

In August 2014, a 13-year-old boy with Type 1 diabetes died after being treated by self-described “master herbalist” Tim Morrow who was tried for child abuse resulting in death and practicing medicine without a license.

He had told the boy’s mother to stop administering insulin and instead prescribed herbs which he sold. According to one report, Morrow told the parents that insulin was poison, and if they took the child to the hospital, he would be killed there.

The mother testified that the boy asked her if he could go to the hospital, but she called Morrow who told her not to take him.

A recording of the 911 call his brother made describes the dispatcher telling him how to perform CPR: “Jurors wept openly in court as the victim’s brother described the boy’s final moments.”

Unfortunately, both of the charges against Morrow are only misdemeanors. Because malice and intent could not be proved, prosecutors said he could not be charged with a felony. If he had been found guilty of both charges, the maximum amount of jail time allowable is just two years.

In addition to being a master herbalist, Morrow, 84, also used the title “master iridologist” which means he supposedly could diagnose illnesses by looking at a person’s irises.

The boy weighed 68 pounds when he died. As he wasted away, Morrow kept telling the parents to continue giving him “natural” remedies. For example, Morrow said rubbing lavender oil on the child’s spine would relax him.

The boy’s parents claimed they were brainwashed, but the defense said the mother had stopped giving the child insulin before she ever met Morrow. Pediatricians had told the mother that a “honeymoon period” of time where he wouldn’t need insulin might occur after the drug had been started.

The jury was shown a YouTube video in which Morrow said, “insulin is very poisonous to the system.” Instead of restarting the insulin, the mother, who has not been charged in the death, said Morrow told her the child was just going through a “healing crisis” manifested by pain and weight loss and said he would soon recover.

Near the end of the trial, the husband of a woman who died of uterine cancer came forward saying Morrow had discouraged her from seeing doctors, but the judge said it was too late in the trial to allow him to testify.

While researching this post, I discovered “master herbalist” is a real thing. The cost of getting such a certificate ranges from $865 for an online course to more than $17,000 for an extensive 7-month curriculum. A biography on Morrow’s website does not mention any such degree.

After two hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of practicing medicine without a license. They were deadlocked on the charge of child abuse resulting in death. Morrow then entered a no contest plea and was sentenced to 4 months in jail and 48 months of probation. He also has to pay for the boy’s funeral, pay a $5000 fine, and take down his misleading videos.

It doesn’t seem like adequate punishment.

Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.  This article originally appeared in Physician’s Weekly.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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