(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — The Washington health department hopes a new court order will finally stop a man it says is treating patients without a medical license. At least two cancer patients under his care have died, according to a civil complaint filed against him last year.
Sung Min Im runs Cleansing Way Seminar, Inc., a facility where people with “chronic conditions” can go to receive “health education,” “nutritional support,” “dietary changes through the use of special herbs, juices, and raw fruits and vegetables” and “spiritual encouragement,” according to the facility website.
Although he is referred to as “Dr. Im” or “Instructor Im” throughout the seminar’s website, Im is not licensed to practice medicine in Washington state, according to the health department. Im signed a cease-and-desist order in 2005 agreeing to stop practicing or get a license, but the health department received a new complaint in 2012, according to a health department press release.
Im’s lawyer, Zenon Olbertz, told ABC News that Im had been licensed to practice medicine in Florida, so he does have a medical degree. Cleansing Way, Olbertz said, is not a medical facility, but rather a seminar based on the teachings of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Florida records indicate that Im’s Florida license expired in 2011, but he has several disciplinary actions on his record, including treating a cancer patient who refused chemotherapy with nutritional supplements in 1979, after which he promised not to put any more patients on his nutritional supplement program and not to treat cancer patients.
“Dr. Im’s position is he does not practice medicine,” Olbertz said. “Dr. Im is quick to say that only God can cure individuals. He does not cure people of anything.”
Seventh-day Adventists “accept the Bible as the only source of our beliefs,” according to the Church’s website, which also states that a “well-balanced vegetarian diet that avoids the consumption of meat coupled with intake of legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, along with a source of vitamin B12, will promote vigorous health.”
According to the civil complaint filed against Im in 2013, two cancer patients were advised not to go to the hospital for their symptoms and later died.
The first patient, identified only as V.R., was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and went to Cleansing Way in April 2011 for treatment consisting of “teas and juices” and attending lectures, the complaint reads.
Although V.R. had a “large open cancer wound” that was bleeding, Im told her to eat a mixture of honey and salt to stop the bleeding, according to the complaint. He also said the bleeding was “toxins” leaving her body and “a good thing,” the complaint reads.
When V.R. began passing “black tar stool,” he said it was “ok” and advised against going to the hospital, according to the complaint.
V.R. went to the hospital anyway and later died, according to the complaint. She was then billed $69,600 for Im’s treatment, it reads.
Another patient, identified only as R.R., was given similar teas, juices and mixtures for her pancreatic cancer in February or March of 2012, according to the complaint. Im told R.R. pain was a “good thing” and discouraged pain medication, it reads. He also discouraged seminar attendees from going to the hospital, according to the complaint.
Im told R.R. to drink dissolved charcoal for her stomach acid, which gave her constipation, so he performed sea salt and distilled water enemas by inserting a tube into her rectum, according to the complaint. She eventually left and later died at a hospital.
“Those people came to facility to go to the seminar and they knew their conditions,” Olbertz said. “None of the issues were ever raised by patients…The seminar attendees are not people that were claiming issues.”
Still, the Cleansing Way website contains patient testimonials. For example, a purported patient identifying himself as Antonio Castilla wrote on the site that he had lung and liver cancer before starting Im’s seminar, but after attending five sessions, “I had a PET scan which revealed that no cancer existed anywhere in my body.”
Although ABC’s Seattle affiliate KOMO encountered a closed gate and a no trespassing sign when it visited the rural Cleansing Way facility, Olbertz said he is not aware that Im has shut down operations after the court order was filed Tuesday. He said it’s possible Im is just between sessions, so no one is at the facility now.
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