Diabetic teen dies after prescribed oils instead of insulin — the herbalist is going to prison

EDITOR’S NOTE: This copy has been updated to reflect that Timothy Morrow is an herbalist, not a certified naturopath.

A California herbalist charged in the death of a diabetic 13-year-old he treated with herbs instead of insulin is heading to prison for four months.

In 2014, Timothy Morrow, a self-proclaimed “master herbalist” based in Torrance, Calif., attempted to treat Edgar Lopez for his Type-1 diabetes. Morrow told Edgar’s parent that the insulin the doctor has prescribed was poison and to rub lavender oil on Egar’s spine instead — claiming it would cure him, according to ABC News.

But Edgar’s health quickly deteriorated; he suffered a cardiac arrest and died as a result of complications from his diabetes.

The medical examiner determined the victim would have lived had he received proper medical treatment, prosecutors said.

Last week, Morrow, 84, was found guilty of one count of practising medicine without a licence. On Monday, a court sentenced him to 120 days in jail and 48 months of summary probation.

Morrow also pleaded no contest to one count of child abuse likely to produce great bodily injury or death.

What happened?

Maria Madrigal, Lopez’s mother, said she had previously attended Morrow’s seminars about herbs and alternative medicine.

During the court case, Madrigal testified that she once regarded Morrow as a specialist “like a god” and trusted him to treat her son.

Although she went to regular doctors for an annual examination and had given Edgar insulin for his diabetes, over time, she stopped and Morrow began to push his herbal products, according to ABC News.

Morrow began treating the 13-year-old for his diabetes by prescribing him herbs instead of the insulin Edgar’s doctor had prescribed.

But Edgar began to fall ill, Madrigal told the jury, and Morrow told her that her son’s pain and weight loss were not symptoms of illness, but that he was on the verge of a rebound that mainstream medicine could not deliver. She said Morrow promised that Edgar’s diabetes would be cured forever.

“He assured me that his life was not at risk,” Madrigal said.

Edgar fell extremely ill due to complications with his Type-1 diabetes in August 2014. The teenager was not eating, his eyes were fixed in place, his skin was cold and he was barely breathing. Morrow went to the family home to treat him, according to prosecutors.

Shortly before Egar died, Morrow told his parents not to give him insulin but instead to give him the herbs he was selling, prosecutors said.

The 13-year-old died the next day.

According to ABC News, Morrow was questioned by Los Angeles police after Edgar died. In a taped interview, police asked: “Why do you think he died?”

“I have no idea, I have no idea. But they said he had a heart attack. He wasn’t having a heart attack when I saw him,” Morrow replied.

Police later told the jury in court that Morrow was a “con artist.”

The defence blamed Edgar’s mother for the teenager’s death, saying Morrow never claimed to be a doctor or have medical credentials.

“There’s no evidence that Mr. Morrow stole Edgar’s insulin vials, no evidence he put a gun to anyone’s head, and said, ‘Give me insulin so I can destroy it,’” defence attorney Sanford Perliss told the jury.

But prosecutors said Morrow brainwashed Edgar’s mother, urging her to use herbs instead of insulin, ABC News reported.

Morrow said tumours were a ‘gift from God’

During the trial, prosecutors showed videos of Morrow (which are also on Youtube) to the jury, in which he claims “a tumour is your friend. A tumour is a gift from God.

In another video, Morrow said, “Insulin is very poisonous to the system.”

Morrow’s website, called Common Sense Herbs, says he is the founder of his company. It says Morrow was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his 40s and after “five years of unsuccessful treatments,” he started to take herbs and changed his diet, and his “cancer disappeared.”

“This case underscores the serious health and safety risks of taking medical advice from someone who lacks a license and the proper training that goes with it,” Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. “These convictions send a strong message that my office will continue to hold accountable those whose actions place lives in danger.”

On top of the prison time, the court also demanded Morrow pay a $5,000 fine, pay the family for all of Edgar’s funeral expenses, to print a clear warning label on herbs he packages for sale and to remove or withdraw all publications and videos that advocate herbs in lieu of medical advice or medicine.

He was also warned he can be charged with murder if his practice leads to the death of another person.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Morrow’s YouTube channel was still up.

Madrigal faces no charges.

Morrow is scheduled to surrender for jail on March 22.

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