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Dr. Oz slammed over sham weight-loss supplements: Legal regulation unlikely

Dr. Oz under fire for shilling quack miracle weight loss supplements
Screengrab from Fox TV

Dr. Mehmet Oz is under attack from all sides, as controversy has been building for some time over his peddling of so-called miracle weight loss supplements. This time, a medical student has launched a public crusade to take Dr. Oz down.

Benjamin Mazer, a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester, is disgusted by what he considers Dr. Oz's abuse of his sterling Ivy League credentials to shill weight-loss supplements and pills that Mazer says are useless.

"Dr. Oz has something like four million viewers a day," said Mazer. "The average physician doesn't see a million patients in their lifetime. That's why organized medicine should be taking action."

Last year, Mazer petitioned the Medical Society of the State of New York (where Dr. Oz is licensed), asking that they regulate the advice of celebrity doctors like Oz.

Benjamin said the over-the-top statements made by Dr. Oz over "miracle" weight loss supplements like raspberry ketones, garcinia cambogia, and green coffee bean extract should be subjected to the same stringent guidelines for truthfulness as expert legal testimony.

Dr. Oz Won Lawsuit By Viewer Over 'Miracle' Insomnia Cure

Despite Mazer's best efforts, it's highly unlikely the weight-loss and health claims made by TV doctors will be subject to rigorous regulation, as there is no legal precedent.

In October 2013, Dr. Oz won a lawsuit brought by a viewer who claimed he had suffered third-degree burns after following insomnia advice Oz suggested on his TV show.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Saliann Scarpulla of the New York Supreme Court ruled there was no duty of care between a television talk-show host and his vast home-viewing audience.

Scarpulla did not address whether the insomnia advice Dr. Oz offered was bad or good, but merely said Oz did not have a physician-patient relationship with the plaintiff, and therefore was not responsible for his injuries.

Frank Dietl, a 76-year-old New Jersey man, claimed he suffered severe burns on his feet after following Dr. Oz's insomnia advice, which involved putting uncooked rice in a pair of socks, microwaving it, and then wearing the heated socks to bed.

On the April 17, 2012 episode of "The Dr. Oz Show," Oz said his "heated rice footsie" helped cure his insomnia, calling it "my night-sleep special."

After trying the remedy, Dietl claimed he experienced second- and third-degree burns on his feet. Dietl suffers from diabetes-induced neuropathy, which causes diminished sensation in his lower extremities. He said Dr. Oz should have warned the audience they could get injured while trying the home remedy if they had pre-existing medical conditions like he did.

Judge: TV Doc Doesn't Have Patient-Doctor Relationship With Millions of Viewers

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Scarpulla said the plaintiff should have known he wouldn't be able to tell if the rice was dangerously hot because of his neuropathy.

"Dietl was well aware of his own medical condition and the possibility that he could be susceptible to injury because of the diminished sensation in his legs," the judge wrote in her opinion.

Furthermore, the judge said she couldn't find a good reason to create a "duty-of-care" relationship between a TV doctor and his audience that would leave him liable for injuries viewers sustain while following his advice.

Scarpulla noted that a doctor-patient relationship is not created simply by a TV physician looking into a camera and addressing his millions of anonymous at-home fans.

"Dietl fails to convince this court that creating such a duty would be sound public policy," wrote Judge Scarpulla, who suggested viewers should exercise their own judgment and consult a doctor (in person) before implementing health remedies suggested by a TV doctor.

In June 2014, Dr. Oz was slammed by Senator Claire McCaskill, chairman of the Senate's consumer protection panel. McCaskill scolded Dr. Oz for making hyperbolic claims about the many "miracle" weight-loss supplements he has been shilling on his top-rated talk show for the past five years.

"I get that you do a lot of good on your show, but I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true," said McCaskill. “The scientific community is almost monolithically against you in terms of the efficacy of the products you called ‘miracles.'"

In response, Dr. Oz conceded that some of his remarks did border on hyperbole, but insisted he actually stands by his claims. “I do personally believe in the items that I talk about,” he said.

Whether the claims of celebrity doctors like Oz can be legally regulated or not, his bigger concern is being judged in the court of public opinion, as damaged credibility will jeopardize the future of his award-winning talk show.

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