A Bothell naturopathic physician found to have engaged in unprofessional conduct in his treatment of cancer patients has agreed to a settlement with state health officials that includes suspension of his license, and probation for at least eight years.
John Catanzaro’s license was suspended last January and will remain suspended until next Jan. 29, when, under his agreement with the Department of Health’s Board of Naturopathy, he will become eligible to petition for reinstatement.
The settlement, approved Oct. 31, was announced Monday in a board news release.
When it suspended Catanzaro’s license, the board asserted in charging documents that his practices were “unsafe for patients.” The board said he was making vaccines in an uncertified laboratory at his clinic, the Health & Wellness Institute of Integrative Medicine and Cancer Treatment, and its related HWIFC Cancer Research Group.
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The Research Group developed “individualized autologous peptide and whole cell based vaccine” made from a “patient’s own blood, body tissues and serum” to fight cancer, according to the settlement.
The experimental injections, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, weren’t covered by insurance.
According to the news release, Catanzaro, 55, failed to follow appropriate protocol for implementing cancer research on people. He also misrepresented to the board whether he had the Federal Drug Administration approval required for experimental medications.
Catanzaro broke laws that govern safe and effective research on people, the release said. He gave unapproved cancer vaccinations to patients without the approval of an institutional review board and failed to keep and maintain patient records, the release said.
Cantanzaro acknowledged that the vaccine was not produced in a laboratory environment and that he personally made each vaccine, according to the settlement.
As part of the settlement, Cantanzaro agreed with the board that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct.
“It’s a fair compromise,” Cantanzaro said Monday. He said he expected to resume his practice in mid-February.
Cantanzaro’s attorney, Rodney Moody, of Everett, said a state expert determined that the cancer treatment fell within the scope of his client’s naturopathic practice.
But Cantanzaro didn’t receive the appropriate blessing from a particular board and his paperwork was “not up to snuff,” Moody said.
Cantanzaro’s patients were neither at risk nor harmed, Moody said.
Cantanzaro said patients benefitted from a treatment he viewed as personalized health care chosen by end-stage cancer patients, rather than as research.
But he said he will not resume the treatment in light of the language of the settlement.
Under the settlement, Cantanzaro will be on probation for at least eight years once his license is reinstated.
While he’s on probation, neither Cantanzaro nor any naturopathic physician in his employment or association will be allowed to engage in cancer research or treatment requiring the issuance of an “Investigational New Drug” or “Institutional Review Board” approval, or the administration of autologous cancer vaccines.
He will be permitted to treat cancer patients while on probation as long he remains within the scope of naturopathic practice and adheres to regulatory requirements. He also must collaborate with a medical doctor or osteopathic physician.
As part of the agreement, he must complete at least seven hours of continuing education in ethics, pass a state exam on the laws and rules governing his profession, and pay a $5,000 fine.
Cantanzaro had also attracted attention because of his relationship with Mark Driscoll, who recently resigned as pastor of Mars Hill Church amid allegations he had bullied church members and staff and allowed church funds some congregants thought were earmarked for global work to be spent on day-to-day operations. Shortly after, Mars Hill Church announced it was dissolving.
Driscoll, Mars Hill’s evangelical Christian founder, in his forward to a book by Catanzaro on the medical aspects of marijuana, referred to Catanzaro as “my doctor and friend.”
Two views of Catanzaro emerged when health officials brought the charges against him:
One was that of a sincere and dedicated healer so intent on helping and bringing hope to cancer patients through what he called “cutting-edge” treatments that he didn’t attend to paperwork. In blogs and testimonials, patients praised him for taking bold steps beyond conventional care, and for seeing terminal patients who otherwise have no hope.
The other view was that of a reckless scientist-wannabe who ignored state and federal regulations aimed at protecting patients who become research subjects, and that he peddled false hope and costly treatments to vulnerable cancer patients.