Mrs. Sickesz is a [*bleep*]

The Dutch Association against Quackery (in Dutch, VtdK) often speaks about quacks. If they didn’t, they would have changed their name. But the judge has forbidden them to use that word for certain physicians.

Recently they were sentenced to spend well over 20,000 euro (US$27,000) to publish an apology in two large national newspapers in the Netherlands, and also pay 5,000 euro in expenses to the court and to the lawyer of their opponent. New processes will probably follow, and lawyers studying the possibility for appeal have to be paid, as well. This is a severe strain for the VtdK, because this court case has cost them already over 70,000 euro. The VtdK is trying to raise money from the public. If you don’t want the organization to disappear, together with the origin of the word ‘quack’, namely ‘kwakzalver’, you can make a contribution. See the information at the end of this document. [NB: the case has been resolved with a positive outcome for the VtdK in 2013]

Do quacks exist?

The Amsterdam Court of Justice consulted the largest modern Dutch dictionary, Van Dale. According to this book (in three volumes and 4464 pages) a ‘kwakzalver’ is

  • Someone who applies useless remedies for the cure of some kind of disease;
  • or who claims to know such remedies against all possible diseases,
  • or who offers such remedies for sale, usually with a lot of hullabaloo.

‘Kwakzalverij’ (quackery) is the process of doing what a quack does, the same dictionary says. Alternatively it can mean a quack’s remedy, defined as ‘useless remedy of a quack’. Apparently there is no quackery without quacks. In the past, unlicensed practioners of medicine could also be referred to as quacks, but nowadays enlightened Dutch laws allow anybody to practice ‘medicine’; though for invasive procedures from simple injections to complicated surgeries, prescribing medicines, etc. one needs to be registered as physician.

The VtdK emphasizes that they oppose methods that haven’t been proved to work and which are based on theories that are in conflict with modern (medical) science. For example, many scientists cannot believe that highly diluted homeopathic preparations can have any effect. They simply don’t contain any active substance anymore. If they had an effect, it would be a paranormal phenomenon, but such effects never have been convincingly demonstrated.

More precisely, the VtdK maintains that its five-point definition of ‘kwakzalverij’ is:

  • each professional act or counseling or assistance related to the health of humans or animals
  • which is not based on testable hypotheses or at least on hypotheses that are deemed logical and empirically verified by contemporaries
  • and which is actively diffused among the general public (overpromotion)
  • without having been examined for effectiveness and safety by the contemporaries
  • and which is (in most cases) done without consultation of other therapists (both family doctors and specialists).

The second, third and fourth item constitute a specification of what the dictionary vaguely calls ‘useless’. Observe that this definition does not imply any conscious intent to deceive, even though the VtdK clearly considers quackery an undesirable phenomenon.

The Amsterdam Court of Justice just stuck to Van Dale. The dictionary definition suffers from the vagueness of the term ‘useless remedies’. Is it useless to give a person a fake treatment or a homeopathic preparation? Certainly not! The placebo effect is well known. Professor Edzard Ernst, a researcher of complementary treatments, once gave a striking example. During an investigation, the patients were divided into two groups. One group was treated homeopathically, the other group received a placebo. In both groups three quarters of all patients felt better afterwards.

The Amsterdam Court says essentially that a treatment is not useless, when it appears that many patients are satisfied with the results. Suddenly there is no alternative therapy anymore that can be called useless. Indeed, all methods have their enthusiastic supporters. Bruno Santanera is an energetic salesman of magnetic devices, living in the north of the Netherlands. He sells a euro-sized pendant with a rare earth magnet inside, supposedly effective against many diseases. In his commercials he shows large piles of letters from grateful patients. Websites that advertise unproven methods usually show testimonials of satisfied customers. Bloodletting has been practiced for centuries and on a grand scale too. Generally clients were satisfied. With the definition of the Amsterdam Court, the hypothetical use of lip balm for a brain tumor cannot be called quackery, because many people are satisfied with lip balm for dry lips!

Frauds and cons

Van Dale mentions a second, metaphorical meaning of ‘kwakzalver’, namely someone intent on deceiving the public, a crude swindler, conman, charlatan or bungler. This does not specifically refer to the art of healing. But the Court claims that this is the most popular and usual meaning. In other words the Court assumes that the word ‘kwakzalver’ is commonly interpreted as ‘cheat’, so whoever uses that word implicitly accuses people of dishonesty and bad faith.

Hence nobody may refer to alternative healers as ‘kwakzalver’ when those persons honestly believe in themselves and don’t intentionally mislead their patients. That leaves very few quacks. Even when someone knows he is selling nonsense, it is very difficult if not impossible to prove that he does.

In some cases it has been convincingly proved that an alternative method doesn’t work, for example iriscopy (or iridology). The Skepsis site has a thorough exposition on this subject, but such findings rarely lead to abolishment of the method. Many iriscopists maintain that they can see all kinds of ailments in the iris. Even the Dutch government site for information about health matters parrots this propaganda. This is not evil intent, it is just ignorance, dogmatism and self deception.

The VtdK was established in 1880 by two pharmacists who started investigating popular patent medicines. The VtdK has repeatedly emphasized that they don’t use the term ‘kwakzalverij’ to imply fraudulous intent. They don’t aim at conmen, and consider that to be a task for the Department of Justice.

The Amsterdam Court thought that it didn’t matter what the VtdK or other experts mean by ‘kwakzalverij’. The only thing that mattered was what the general public thinks. The judges didn’t ask the general public at all, and without an opinion poll they are certain that the general public thinks that a ‘kwakzalver’ is a bad guy, a swindler and a con, in other words, that the term implies a grave accusation.

Quack list

During its annual meeting on Saturday, October 14, 2000, the VtdK presented a list of the twenty greatest (Dutch) quacks of the twentieth century. The board of the VtdK had first made a ‘long list’ of 52 names, established criteria, and checked all the volumes of their magazine. Maybe they might have chosen different people, but it was clear that all of the chosen had made unproven, improbable or outright false claims. The list had ten physicians. The VtdK considered them a little worse than the others, as they were academics, and should have known better when a statement cannot pass the muster of scientific critique. The list was topped by a family doctor named Moerman who had propagated a kind of vegetarian anti-cancer diet on the premise that pigeons don’t get cancer. Many newspapers paid attention to this, and two of them printed the entire list. One of them reported on Monday, October 16, about the meeting, liberally using words meaning ‘conmen’, ‘liars’ and so on.

Number 12 was a man called Houtsmuller, M.D., Ph.D., formerly a specialist in internal medicine. He had developed an anti-cancer diet as well, with shark cartilage as one of its ingredients, directly or indirectly based on the (wrong) idea that sharks don’t get cancer. Cees Renckens, the gynecologist chairman of the VtdK, had called him a quack after it had become clear that the only known patient cured by this diet, namely Houtsmuller himself, hadn’t had a metastasized melanoma, as he had claimed. Houtsmuller sued (1999) Renckens for use of the term ‘kwakzalver’, and lost immediately in summary proceedings.

Shortly after the publication of the ‘Top Twenty Quack List’ the Amsterdam Court judged that Houtsmuller had the right to complain. They decided that he had acted in good faith, and that the term ‘kwakzalver’ was too harsh. So when Renckens decided to publish the press information of October 2000 as a booklet, the title was changed to Genezen is het woord niet (Curing isn’t the word), published by Skepsis as number 14 in a series of brochures. Like the press documentation, it contained short biographic entries of twenty people, with a general introduction, explaining that these people were ‘genezers’ (curers, healers), meaning the same thing as ‘kwakzalver’, (i.e. the five-point definition above) but without the possible connotation of intentional deceit. The subtitle of the booklet said ‘the most notable curers of the 20th century’, but with a word that can mean ‘well known’ or ‘notorious.’

The physician Maria Sickesz (1923) didn’t like to be on this list (she was number 7). On Monday, October 16, she filed criminal charges of libel and slander with the police. Nothing came of these charges. Shortly after the publication of the list she debated the secretary of the VtdK on the radio about the subject, and she urged many of her patients to write glowing letters to VtdK’s chairman. In the summer of 2003, Renckens was urged by a lawyer (also one of Sickesz’ patients) to stop selling the booklet, or else. Mrs. Sickesz explicitly stated that she didn’t want to be mentioned together with some others on the list, and in a later stage mentioned Moerman and Jomanda (a notorious healing medium). Renckens answered that he wasn’t the publisher, and that the sale of the booklet had virtually stopped. In December 2003 Renckens was directed to stop calling Mrs. Sickesz a quack, and to place expensive advertisements with an apology.

On August 4, 2005, the lower Amsterdam court judged that Mrs. Sickesz was wrong. The court accepted the explanation of the VtdK of the term ‘kwakzalver’ or curer, namely that it didn’t imply the intent to deceive. But Sickesz appealed to a higher Court, and on May 31, 2007, this Court decided that Mrs. Sickesz was right, and granted most of her wishes.

Orthomanual medicine

In the Netherlands a variant of osteopathy or chiropractic had been developed from 1964 by an alternative healer. He called it ‘manual therapy’. From the next year on, Mrs. Sickesz developed what she ultimately called orthomanual medicine. Manual therapy became a rather popular alternative medicine in the Netherlands. In the 1980s the school of Sickesz separated from the mainstream. The main reason for the split seems to be that Sickesz insisted on a perfect symmetry of the spine, whereas in the ‘old school’ a slight asymmetry was accepted.

Sickesz maintained that deviations from the perfectly symmetrical placement of the vertebrae and the pelvis produce a large variety of complaints. At first she merely treated pain in the neck and in the back, but gradually she became convinced that she could treat much more than that: anorexia, asthma, autism, chronic diarrhea, colitis, depression, diabetes, eczema, heart complaints, hayfever, hyperventilation, menstrual complaints, migraine, multiple sclerosis (MS), phobias, schizophrenia, stomach ulcers, etcetera. The long list reminds one of the dictionary definition ‘against all possible diseases’.

Mrs. Sickesz considers the ‘high neck syndrome’ as her most important discovery. She thinks this is mostly caused by instrumental birth deliveries. She says that these result in serious deviations of symmetry; more particularly, that the head and the two top vertebrae in the neck can be shifted with respect to each other. This, she says, can be easily remedied; one should, immediately after birth, lift the baby by its head for a while. If this isn’t done, serious defects will result, she asserts.

Mrs. Sickesz says that schizophrenics can be recognized by serious misalignments in the upper neck. During a visit to an association of schizophrenics she was allowed to examine all 15 people present; one of those wasn’t schizophrenic. She claims in her paper (part D) that she could determine which one that was, within a quarter of an hour. Altogether she examined 67 schizophrenics, who completely confirmed her hypothesis. All of them, she wrote, had misaligned necks.

The same thing happened with 48 multiple sclerosis patients, 70 with Parkinson’s disease and 83 with autism. The correlation was 100 percent, Sickesz says. Moreover, she claimed, there were clear improvements after the misalignments were corrected. If that were true, every scientist would praise her. Then her mission in this world (see part II) would be completed. However, the black forces prevailed. No well-known scientific journal accepted her findings.

Mrs. Sickesz sometimes takes the initiative to contact associations of patients, to tell them that she has the solution for their problems. For example, she offered her assistance to the Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa Association. She treated three patients, but they were very negative about her afterwards. Apparently she also approached public figures, telling them what they suffered from and that they should come to her practice for treatment.

Sickesz trained about 100 physicians to apply her method. She wrote a number of books about it. They were published by a well-known New Age publisher in the Netherlands (Ankh-Hermes). Established medicine does not take her ideas seriously and not just only the effect is in doubt. It is also not believed that she can adjust vertebrae, at all. During the process in the lower court the VtdK presented statements by six professors (internist, neurologist, psychiatrist, orthopedist, pulmonologist, radiologist) who each said that Sickesz was wrong about their subject.

It might be interesting to find out whether the diagnoses of the orthomanual therapists agree with each other at all. Are they really able to determine whether a vertebra has been aligned by their colleague? Such a test would be rather simple.

Thesis research

In the 1980s the Dutch Ministery of Health was eager to spend money for research in alternative medicine, like psychic healing and iridology. Two pupils of Sickesz, physicians Albers and Keizer, also got money to do research. They were assisted by a retired professor of statistics in the Department of Economics of Erasmus University of Rotterdam. The two physicians got their Ph.D. with a joint thesis, without the Department of Medicine having any say in it. The professor of orthopedics was furious, and said that it was ‘carnival medicine’.

There were 2725 patients who filled out a long questionaire before being treated. Altogether, 34 orthomanual practitioners took part. Two months after the treatment the patients (that is, 1862 of them) filled out a second questionaire, and two thirds of these said their complaints had diminished.

There were 254 patients who could not be treated right away. They were placed on a waiting list. They too received a second questionaire after two months (or more). This second questionaire was filled out by 162 patients. This served as a comparison to the treated group. Among these 162 there were 119 with pain in the lower back, and 45 percent of these said they had improved. For the treated patients these numbers were 1435, and 67 percent.

Apparently a major part of the ‘effect’ is just the natural course of the disease. This is reinforced by the fact that patients often come for treatment when they feel bad. This type of disease is fluctuating by nature. Not surprisingly a few months later the patients feel better again. The placebo effect might be the explanation for the difference between the waiting list and the treated patients. Whoever gets treated is inclined to think that it has had some effect. If one wants to be sure that a treatment has an effect, one should compare it to a credible placebo therapy; this wasn’t done in this research. Moreover, the waiting list was small. In proper research assignment to the treatment group or the control group is done by randomizing. This wasn’t done either, a fact mentioned by the researchers themselves. So randomizing and blinding – the two most important characteristics of good medical research – were both absent.

The Amsterdam Court attached great importance to this thesis research. Even if we assume that the Sickesz method is effective for pain in the back, neck or shoulders, we cannot conclude that the VtdK was wrong in mentioning Mrs. Sickesz in their booklet. She wasn’t included in the list of ‘Noted Curers’ because she treats back pain, but because she thinks she knows everything, and because her claims are far too comprehensive.

The VtdK wasn’t the only one to say so. Even the associations of physicians for manual and orthomanual treatment had made a press announcement (which is still on their website) stating that they dissociated themselves from the claims of Mrs. Sickesz that manipulation of the upper three vertebrae of the neck is an adequate remedy for complaints due to depression, schizophrenia and anorexia. These associations want to restrict their activities to pain in the back, neck and joints, quite unlike what Sickesz has been doing for a long time.

Sickesz had demanded apologies in the form of ads measuring 10 by 20 centimeter (4 by 8 inches) on page two of two large newspapers, stating that ‘it cannot be said that the treatments of Sickesz and of orthomanual medicine don’t have (any) effect’ and that she was unjustly called a ‘kwakzalver’. In other words the VtdK must suggest that patients can trust themselves to her, no matter what the complaints, because Mrs. Sickesz can treat almost everything. 

Postscriptum July 8, 2013
The Association against Quackery appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court, which vindicated the Association and referred the case back to the Court of The Hague (May 15, 2009). After Mrs. Sickesz decided to bring her case before this Court, it decided (April 2, 2013) in favor of the Association, mentioning explicitly that Evidence Based Medicine was the modern norm for medicine. In other words, the judgment of the lower Amsterdam court was valid. The three months time limit for appeal to this judgement has expired now and Mrs. Sickesz (90) did not appeal. So this is the end of the affair – NB: Sickesz died on april 21st 2015.

Sickesz in higher realms

about white and black forces

The occultist book of Mrs. Sickesz, which went to through five printings.

A man in Africa complained to a very trustworthy colleague of Sickesz about his impotence. He only could have sex three times a night, instead of the usual 8 to 10 orgasms per night. Sickesz considers this anecdote a clear indication that Africans ‘live in their belly’. We should not be surprised that they don’t feel like working the next day.

According to Sickesz, this can’t be remedied, because in Africa there are many ‘primitive’ people who were animals in their previous life. They are socalled ‘young souls’. In Sickesz’ cosmology ethereal monads first incarnate as minerals, and then climb up through plants and animals to people; that plants have emotions, she considers as an established fact. These young souls are dominated by animal instincts, they don’t have a conscience and they cannot think abstractly.

Mrs. Sickesz thinks it ‘logical’ that the gap between Africa and the West is ever widening: ‘There just are souls which are primo-incarnations, and where can they incarnate better than in the simple societies that are found in developing countries…’ Those souls, she says, can develop themselves, and when they are far enough developed, they can reincarnate as Westerners.

Sickesz writes that young souls shouldn’t move to Europe, because they aren’t ripe for that yet:’Their super-ego selected such a society not without a reason. Because there was not yet an opportunity to develop knowledge of good and evil in previous incarnations, since the previous incarnation was an animal one, these people slide off easily into crime in a western society. After all, there is no “conscience”.’

Mrs. Sickesz reassuringly remarks ‘that we don’t speak about skin color, and also not about race, but we talk about young souls that incarnate in special areas – together – in simple societal forms.’ It’s just a coincidence that they aren’t white.

Sickesz dedicates a separate chapter to criminals. She says these also must be divided into young and old souls. The young souls (not necessarily young people) should be sent to re-education camps. Old souls merely need a short therapy to get them on the right track again, except when they are diehard criminals who have been criminals in many past lives. This group should best be deported to tropical islands. There they can experience what it means to live in a society without laws. ‘The only surveillance should consist of a cordon of ships around them, so nobody can get off.’

There are also people who have committed their crimes under the influence of spirits or hypnosis. This group should be treated by special psychiatrists who are ‘knowledgeable about séances with psychics’. They must be able to call for ‘help from the beyond’.

A chief of police was willing to listen to the ideas of Mrs. Sickesz during one Saturday afternoon. She thought that this conversation was very useful, because ‘Without this help I would never have managed, the whole story would have been a shot in the dark.’

Sickesz as enlightened master

Sickesz remembers that she was an Egyptian priest in a previous life. Her soul is probably quite old (incidentally, she has also been an eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus, and guess what: that was a sham execution, a fact which she says has been also proved by scholars examining the Shroud of Turin). She knows that our planet is being governed from higher realms by a High Council of very far developed entities, among whom the ‘racial god Jehova’, an entity specially appointed to look after the Jews. Wars only happen when this council agrees. This council is also known as the White Brotherhood. The White Brotherhood doesn’t care about war casualties, because everybody lives on in a next incarnation.

Hence for the consciousness of the planetary Leaders it is not important at all whether 1, 2, 3 or even 8, 10 or 15 million people die in a war, when this war has as consequence that the spiritual development of the planet advances one more step….

In Western Europe about 40 percent have developed the ‘heart chakra’, and another 40 percent are below that level. This includes the 5 percent that didn’t get further than the lowest chakra at the spinal base. Mrs. Sickesz obtained all these percentages in 1975 by psychic means, so maybe they aren’t correct anymore.

The White Brotherhood administers initiations from the higher realms to those who open their minds for this. The sixth initiation develops the crown chakra and makes the positive ‘yang force’ flow down the spine. Then one doesn’t have to reincarnate anymore.

Sickesz’ occultist book was published in 1978, and in 1981 a second printing followed, with two chapters added. It was based on ‘living room lectures’. At that moment the Netherlands only had eight initiates of the ‘fourth degree’. Such people don’t have negative emotions anymore and cannot be insulted in any way. Initiates of the fifth degree are called masters of wisdom and are extremely vital and resistant to diseases.

Initiates can speed up their development when the White Brotherhood thinks that necessary because of an important mission on Earth. During the highest possible peak experience, the Unio Mystica, one coalesces with the Divine Light, one’s consciousness extends to infinity and one has an absolute knowledge. ‘This happens through intervention by the Leaders of the human race, who lift the personality, unified with the Self, to this highest realm.’

Mrs. Sickesz is one of the elect, at least she reports that she ‘already experienced enlightenment at the age of 18’, after having studied The Secret Doctrine of theosophy founder Madame Blavatsky.

The experience of a cosmic consciousness implies a commission for the person experiencing it. It would be wise if humanity sought out the entities who have experienced such a thing and then appointed them to be leaders, rather than the biggest shouters, which is what happens now…

Presently there is a contest ‘between the white and the black, dark forces’ according to Mrs. Sickesz, and she claims that a similar thing happened in the time of Atlantis. ‘There, too, people knew a lot. In some respects people were even more advanced than we. At that time there came a separation between the white magicians who only used their forces and insights for the good of humanity and for the development of the race, and the black magicians who used them only for themselves and their own power. … We are nowadays in the same position.’ Her words seem prophetic.

Gliding jumps and Scientology

Mrs. Sickesz presents the Theosophic beliefs as if they were facts and she tries to explain everything in terms of physics. She even introduces a supposedly new symbol in physics, a circle with a dot inside, the classical astronomical (and astrological) symbol for the sun. She expounds that this symbolizes the divine force field, which ‘everywhere and always will have about the same tension.’ It is equal to E + M. In the higher spiritual realms matter is much more refined and M approaches zero in the divine area. ‘I can say this to you, because I have observed it myself, I have been there myself.’ Sickesz suspects that inside neutron stars E approaches zero, but that isn’t certain. Apparently she hasn’t been there.

UFOs often disappear suddenly, she informs us, and then they leave a small cloud. Mrs. Sickesz tells us that she has seen this, and that her son has seen this as well. The UFOs simply dematerialize by raising E. The Indian guru Sai Baba does the opposite: he makes objects materialize out of empty space, without using trickery. It is also possible to travel in an etheric body to another place and then appear to others materially. Several swami’s have mastered this art. The Brazilian Arigo operated with a kitchen knife without leaving wounds. Some Tibetans can run very fast. They move with a kind of gliding jumps ‘so the monk has a speed of about 60 km/h [40 mph] for hours at a stretch.’

Mrs. Sickesz sees no reason to doubt any of this. ‘These matters have been sufficiently investigated; they are reality, too. So the working hypothesis has to be – if one wants to work responsibly – so wide that all these phenomena can be explained by it. That indeed is my intention.’

Not only theosophy and spiritism come in handy. Mrs. Sickesz is also open to other sources of wisdom. Two pages are spent for a scheme due to L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Of course orthomanual medicine is also discussed. For the harmony of the physical body a straight spine is of great importance.

My experiences as “manipulating” physician is that when a spinal column is completely balanced the so-called psychosomatoses are cured by themselves. Among these are asthma, eczemas, stomach ulcers, colitis and hayfever. All these complaints cure by themselves when the vegetative nervous system has been balanced by a properly working spine. I will come back to this later in a publication about my textbook of orthomanipulation – for experts.

The book closes with twenty poems. They have been created with the help of ‘the beyond’, which helped to get rhyme and rhythm correct. This is hard to render in English, but the following translated stanza gives an impression of the poetic quality, the grammar and the quality of rhyme and rhythm the White Brotherhood managed to get across:

Is your coat old and worn,
then throw it out just like that.
The same goes for your body
when your luck with it is bad.

It hardly seems necessary to comment on this summary of Sickesz’ book. No doubt readers can make up their own minds. Dutch readers who don’t believe that it’s really all that bad, can read the book itself. It is widely available in second-hand bookstores. The last printing dates from 1995.

The Amsterdam Court judged that Sickesz’ good name was damaged by putting her in a list and in a booklet together with Jomanda. However, the similarity is greater than the Court realized. Jomanda is an ardent admirer of the medium Jozef Rulof who also peddles a combination of racism and reincarnation theory. Moerman wrote a brochure titled The rebirth of Christianity (1956) with crude antisemitic remarks in it. It is not implausible that at least some of the alternative therapists in the booklet prefer not to be mentioned in connection with Sickesz.

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Rob Nanninga was hoofdredacteur van Skepter van 2002 tot 2014