A Laurel physician whose unconventional methods of treating cancer patients have prompted official charges that he is "professionally incompetent" says he is being singled out for punishment by a medical establishment hostile to his treatments.
The Maryland State Commission on Medical Discipline in April charged that Dr. Ahmad Shamim, an Iranian-born surgeon, was incompetent for using "unproven and unaccepted forms of treatment" and that he "willfully made or filed a false report in the practice of medicine" about a former patient, according to the doctor's attorney, Thomas C. Morrow of Baltimore.
The action came after three hospitals in Montgomery and Prince George's counties stripped Shamim of all privileges at the facilities between 1979 and 1981. The commission, which has held two hearings on Shamim this year, is expected to rule on the case next year.
Shamim, 50, who could lose his license if the nine-member commission of doctors rules against him, maintains that he is the scapegoat of conservative, established physicians who do not believe in his methods.
"All I'm telling my patients is: Do exactly what your grandmother told you. Eat the right foods. Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you," he said.
"We're being exterminated by the medical elite," Shamim said of physicians whose alternate methods of treatment -- using enemas, the drug laetrile, strict diets and vitamin regimens to fight cancer and other debilitating diseases -- are under attack in other parts if the country. Believers in unconventional medicine say it often bolsters the body's natural defenses, in some cases to the point of reversing the disease itself.
In Virginia, the state's board of medicine is considering charges of misconduct against Dr. Thomas J. Roberts, a Loudoun County physician who used some unorthodox techniques and who also lost hospital privileges. In June, a Baltimore internist was placed on a two-year probation by the Maryland medical discipline commission for ordering digestive aids, vitamin therapy and elimination diets for 14 patients.
"All of these doctors, myself included, are trying new approaches to medicine, alternatives to radiation and chemotherapy, which often do as much harm to the patient as good," Shamim said.
Shamim, a soft-spoken man, received his medical training in the United States after graduating from Teheran University and was a resident surgeon at hospitals in New York and New Jersey. He immigrated to this country in 1957 and established his Laurel practice in 1969 after two years in Silver Spring. He has lost his operating privileges at two Montgomery County hospitals, Holy Cross in Silver Spring and Washington Adventist in Takoma Park, and at one hospital in Prince George's County, Leland Memorial in Riverdale.
When Holy Cross barred him from practicing surgery there, 500 supporters wrote letters to the hospital protesting the decision, he said. In one of 13 letters Shamim made available to The Washington Post, a Columbia, Md., man who had received radiation treatment for a cancerous lesion on his nose said Shamim's nutritional program resulted in a "dramatic improvement" in his condition. A Bethesda resident called Shamim "a competent, dedicated and caring physician."
Commission counsel Jack C. Tranter last week refused to discuss Shamim's case, citing confidentiality rules that govern the commission's hearings.
But Thomas J. Kwiatkowski, the assistant state attorney general prosecuting Shamim, said the case was brought "because the state has an interest in the public health. We want to protect citizens from a medical practitioner who the relevant agency believes is not up to snuff."
Morrow said the charge about the false report on a former patient concerned Shamim's certification that the former patient had terminal cancer. Such a certification is required before prescribing laetrile, which is legal in Maryland and more than 20 other states states. State authorities disputed Shamim's certification although the patient ultimately died of cancer, Morrow said.
Shamim said that although the hospitals' ban forced him to give up his lucrative surgical practice, he believes that in many cases nutritional therapy is more beneficial than surgery.
Shamim said he uses few drugs in his practice, adding that he adminsters doses of enzymes and vitamin C to cancer patients as well as coffee enemas to detoxify livers of some patients.
"If a patient has strep throat, of course we'll give him penicillin," he said. "But for cancer, chronic degenerative diseases, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and sinus trouble, a change in diet or lifestyle can make all the difference in the world."
Shamim "is not holding his treatment out as a magic bullet against cancer," Morrow said, "but it is one weapon in the arsenal, especially where the conventional procedures have been unsuccessful."
Some of Shamim's 500 active patients have gone to him after conventional medicine, such as radiation or chemotherapy in cancer cases, did nothing to check the cancer, Morrow said. Shamim said he has about 30 cancer patients.