The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A diabetic boy in Australia died after a controversial ‘self-healing’ course. Now his parents are charged with manslaughter.

Placeholder while article actions load

In April 2015, the 6-year-old diabetic boy’s mother took him to an $1,800 week-long Chinese therapy class meant to “heal” him.

At the “self-healing” workshop in Sydney, a man named Hongchi Xiao instructed participants to follow “paida lajin” techniques, which involve slapping, stretching and fasting for days on end. By slapping parts of the body until bruising appears, long-held toxins and “poisoned blood” are released, according to the practice. These methods, Xiao claims, are capable of “curing” a number of diseases — including diabetes.

But in the days after he attended the workshop, the 6-year-old, Aidan Fenton, collapsed in the family’s hotel room. His parents’ screams prompted the staff to call police, who said the boy died on the scene.

The death connected to the peculiar therapy made headlines in Australia and beyond, and caused authorities to investigate whether the parents — or perhaps the workshop leader — had denied insulin to the boy, who suffered from Type 1 diabetes.

On Tuesday, nearly two years later, police charged the boy’s parents with manslaughter in connection to his death, alleging “gross negligence,” New South Wales authorities announced in a statement. The parents, a 56-year-old man and a 41-year-old woman, were believed to have deliberately denied the boy food and medicine, authorities told the Sydney Morning Herald.

A spokeswoman for the New South Wales police declined to release the parents’ names.

Although Xiao, the man who led the workshop, was questioned in the early death investigation, the self-described “healer” has not been charged with anything in Australia. In a Facebook post the following month, Xiao extended his condolences to Aidan’s family while rejecting accusations that he was a killer or con man, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“In each of my books and seminars, I have emphasized that I am not a doctor,” Xiao said in the message.

Despite the death, he continued to hold classes around the world promoting his therapies. But in November, Xiao was arrested by police in the United Kingdom on suspicion of manslaughter in connection to another death. Following one of his workshops in October, Danielle Carr-Gomm, 71, was found dead in her room in Wiltshire, England, the South China Morning Post reported.

Carr-Gomm’s son Matthew, 43, said his mother had been given false hope.

“I am certain that if she hadn’t gone on this course, she would still be alive today. She was convinced this alternative treatment was going to have a positive effect,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post. “She had a lifelong fear of needles, so diabetes was probably the worst illness she could get. That was why she was so keen to try alternative therapies.”

Xiao was released on bail, and it is unclear what has happened since. His methods have continued to mystify and outrage supporters of traditional medicine, who claim they have no scientific basis. Yet the man’s workshops, books and videos have attracted a significant following in Chinese communities around Asia, the BBC reported.

In his Amazon author description, Xiao says he was a Wall Street banker and wrote the script for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics before developing his unusual medical technique based on ancient Taoist and Buddhist principles.

He claims slapping the skin stimulates heat that dissolves toxins. On his website he recommended: “For children over three years old, in addition to slapping along the entire spine, slap the universal regions (elbows, knees, hands and feet), the entire four limbs, and stretch on a Lajin bench.”

In his book, “Paida and Lajin Self-Healing,” Xiao wrote that doctors are “brainwashed” by drug producers to act as salesmen for their drugs. Therefore, a doctor instructs diabetic patients to take hypoglycemic drugs, telling them that if their blood sugar is not under control, it will easily lead to a number of heart problems.

Xiao writes:

“In short, diabetes is caused by endocrine disorders, which is related to the heart, i.e. a condition due to emotional problems. Some people are overly obsessed with money, power, social status or their children, and these obsessions make them tense and anxious all the time. Naturally, the endocrine system will not function properly.

Xiao writes in a footnote in his book that these are not medical treatments. But, he writes, to “cure” diabetes one must “not be misled by its name,” he says.

“Diabetics should first be happy and self-assured, and learn to let go” and practice his “paida lajin” techniques to cleanse the internal organs, he said. If diabetics slap themselves in the inner elbows, bruising — considered manifestations of a toxic waste called “sha” — will appear.

“You have to be hard a little bit, cruel a little bit,” Xiao said in a video posted last year. “But not too much.”

More from Morning Mix

This New Zealand river now has the same legal rights as a human being

Iowa attorney general: Drinkable sunscreen ‘flat-out dangerous to consumers’

Three young boys kick and stone a flamingo to death at Czech zoo