Autism quack and anti-vaccine Mark Geier, a former physician stripped of his medical license by the State of Maryland, won a lawsuit against the Maryland Board of Physicians that awarded the Geier family $2.5 million in damages. Of course, the anti-vaccine and anti-autism world will claim that Mark Geier is an innocent man, and this ruling “proves” that.
Except it doesn’t. Geier is still not a doctor, being defrocked like his fellow fraud in the anti-vaccine world, Mr. Andrew Wakefield. Geier won a lawsuit that had everything to do with some serious breaches of privacy by the Maryland Board of Physicians, who had a vendetta against Mark Geier (and his son David) for their horrendous treatment protocol to “cure” autistic children. In fact, while the Board stripped Mark Geier of his medical license, they also charged David Geier, who is not a physician of any kind, of practicing medicine without a license.
I cannot repeat this enough – Mark Geier still won’t be practicing medicine, because his medical license is still suspended. This has not changed. And David Geier is still guilty of practicing medicine without a license.
Because this story is so important, we’re going to talk about Mark Geier, what he did, and what this case really means.
All about Mark Geier (and his son)
Mark Geier had a normal career in medicine until he became fascinated with vaccines and autism. While he was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health in the early 1970s, he started dabbling in vaccine safety issues. Since then, Geier has testified in more than 90 vaccines cases before the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP, also known as the Vaccine Court).
His basic shtick was that thimerosal, mercury, and other factors in vaccines caused autism. He got away with all this junk science until a judge ruled, in an NVICP case, that Dr. Geier was “a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise, and experience.”
In another case, the Special Master ruled that “Dr. Geier’s testimony is not reliable, or grounded in scientific methodology and procedure. His testimony is merely subjective belief and unsupported speculation.”
In a third case, the judge stated that “The court is inclined not to allow Dr. Geier to testify before it on issues of Table injuries. Dr. Geier clearly lacks the expertise to evaluate the symptomatology of the Table injuries and render an opinion thereon.”
In other words, like many so-called authorities of the anti-vaccine world, Mark Geier lacks any background or training in any field of biomedicine related to vaccines. He was (and still is) a quack pushing his “subjective beliefs” without any regards to real science.
As we all know, vaccines are not linked to autism, but the Geiers, despite their total lack of education, research, and experience in vaccines, claimed that it was. This would be bad enough. But Mark Geier (and David) engaged in an activity so horrendous, that I still can’t believe that they got away with it for so long.
As many of us are aware, a portion of the anti-vaccine world has this extreme level of bias against autistic children. I don’t get it, but it is a thing. These people want to “cure” their children of autism as if it makes their children something less than other children. Most of us reject this treatment of autistic children.
In light of the fear of autism, the Geiers developed a “protocol” for curing autism that used the drug Lupron, which is a synthetic hormone used for chemical castration. I’ll turn to an oldie but goodie from the cantankerous Orac for a description of this junk science:
I’ve written extensively about the Geiers’ quackery before, beginning over five years ago. Basically, somehow the Geiers came up with an idea so wrong it’s not even wrong, a spinoff of the scientifically discredited notion that autism is “mercury toxicity” due to the thimerosal preservative that used to be in many childhood vaccines. Somehow, some way, the Geiers got it in their head that testosterone binds mercury and that decreasing levels of testosterone would, therefore, make chelation therapy work better to get rid of that nonexistent mercury toxicity. Never mind that there’s no evidence that testosterone binds to mercury the way the Geiers claim under physiological conditions.
Worse, in order to get the expensive drug Lupron paid for by third-party payors, the Geiers had a propensity to diagnose many of their patients with “precocious puberty,” whether they met the medical criteria for the diagnosis or not, sometimes whether they had undergone puberty at a normal age or not. Worse, their quackery metastasized to different states, as the Geiers set up a veritable chain of autism treatment clinics promoting their protocol.
Not only is Lupron expensive, but the diagnostic tests that the Geiers had ordered were also pricey, up to $12,000 for the protocol. It’s disgusting junk science to prey upon parents who want to cure their child of autism.
On 27 April 2011, the Maryland Board of Physicians suspended Mark Geier’s medical license, stating that he “endangers autistic children and exploits their parents by administering to the children a treatment protocol that has a known substantial risk of serious harm and which is neither consistent with evidence-based medicine nor generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.” The Board also ruled that Mark Geier misdiagnosed patients, diagnosed patients without sufficient tests, and recommended risky treatments for autism without full informed consent from the parents (that’s called irony).
In case you think that it was just a vendetta against the Geiers by the Maryland Board of Physicians, it was not. The suspension was reaffirmed by that board in May 2011. Then, after a full evidentiary hearing in an appeal, the findings and suspension were upheld. Then Geier’s licenses to practice medicine in Washington, Virginia, California, Missouri, Illinois, and Hawaii were revoked as well. After all of this, Mark Geier cannot practice medicine in any jurisdiction in the United States.
Also in 2011, son David Geier, who only has a bachelor’s degree in biology, was charged by the Maryland Board of Physicians with practicing medicine without a license and fined $10,000.
These are horrible people who committed horrific acts against autistic children. Though the parents of these children are not without guilt themselves, they were essentially conned by the Geiers to treat their children with this junk medicine.
These were the reasons why Mark Geier was stripped of his license to practice medicine. And why David Geier was charged and fined for practicing medicine without a license. The facts behind these actions are unchanged, and Mark Geier still does not have a medical license and still cannot practice medicine. The Maryland Board of Physicians’ decisions regarding the Geiers has not been vacated, changed, or overturned. There has been no change in facts about the Geiers, and they have not been exonerated.
So what happened with this lawsuit?
To make it simple, as a part of the case against Mark Geier, he was also accused of (and found guilty of) prescribing medications to himself, his wife, and his son while his license was suspended. The problem became that the Maryland Board of Physicians then released the details of those prescriptions online, thereby violating the Geier’s privacy.
Apparently, the Board was attempting to humiliate the Geiers, which seemed like a good idea, but violating privacy was not.
As a result, the skeptic interwebs had a field day with this information, thoroughly mocking the Geiers for their use of these medications. I am not sure whether it was appropriate for our side to do this – however, given how much the Geiers are despised by skeptics for their abuse of children and anti-vaccine pseudoscience, it’s hard to ignore anything that could belittle Mark and David Geier.
The Geiers sued the Board for violating their privacy, and Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin agreed with the Geiers and awarded them $2.5 million in damages. He actually ordered that the individuals on the Board pay half of those damages. Of course, the decision was immediately appealed, so the Geiers shouldn’t be counting on the cash yet.
Patient privacy is one of the fundamental tenets of medicine – even the Geiers, as reprehensible as they are as human beings, deserve that right. I and many others support this decision (with many caveats):
None of this exonerates Geier, but If the judge's conclusions are accurate (which, to be fair, is disputed), then the board screwed up big time: Unprofessional behavior, incompetence, failure to even read the letter before approving it, inappropriate emails. Appalling. https://t.co/DgEDCbVhzv
— David Gorski (@gorskon) February 4, 2018
An appeals court may modify or vacate this decision, leaving the Geiers with nothing. But if the facts are as presented, most of us feel that the Maryland Board of Physicians should be punished.
Again, I cannot emphasize this enough. This case does not absolve the Geiers of their egregious abuse of children and their parents. This does not vindicate them of their behavior. This does not acquit them from the charges and punishment from the Maryland Board of Physicians.
This case was not about what they did in practicing junk medicine on children and bilking parents for fake treatments. This case and decision were specifically about a violation of their privacy.
- Generally, our resident legal scholar, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, writes about legal cases. And I am most certainly not a legal scholar, nor do I play one on the internet. Professor Reiss was very busy being an academic researcher, and I thought I could tackle it. I hope I acquitted myself well in doing so (pun intended).