Betty McIver says she would have trouble walking without the nutritional treatment she receives for multiple sclerosis.
Paula Durcan says she would not have been able to give birth to her two children had it not been for similar unconventional, or "holistic," medical treatment she underwent instead of the hysterectomy a doctor had recommended.
They have joined more than 100 other Marylanders in lobbying the General Assembly for a bill that would prevent a medical board from disciplining physicians solely because they practice unconventional or experimental medicine.
The bill's supporters, many of them patients of a Laurel physician who says he is being investigated for incompetence by state medical authorities, journeyed to Annapolis this week with stories of being successfully treated with diet and vitamin therapies for cancer, hypertension and other ailments.
They claim that the medical establishment, which relies on drugs, surgery and other procedures in addition to nutrition, is harassing its unconventional brethren.
Many physicians, however, disagree. This bill would hurt patients by enabling quacks to go unpunished, said Gerard E. Evans, who represents the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland.
"If you prescribe vitamins to treat cancer solely, then you're outside the norm and you endanger the public," Evans said.
The chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which must vote on the bill, questioned the need for the legislation.
Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Eastern Shore, said his committee did not hear any direct testimony from holistic doctors who had been disciplined. Also, he said, there is no definition of unconventional or experimental medicine.
The bill's direct target is the State Board of Physician Quality Assurance, which tests, licenses and disciplines doctors.
Dr. Ahmad Shamim, a Laurel physician, claims the board and its predecessor, the Commission on Medical Discipline, have harassed him for years because of his holistic practice.
Shamim said he now faces the possible revocation of his medical license because of charges of incompetence and of failing to refer patients for standard tests. He denied the board's charges, which he said were advanced by "these clowns in Baltimore."
Because of confidentiality rules, the Board of Physician Quality Assurance cannot confirm the existence of a pending case against Shamim, said its acting executive director, J. Michael Compton. The board has taken no position on the bill and does not harass any doctors, he said.
In 1984, the state Commission on Medical Discipline suspended Shamim's license for incompetence and for filing a false report so he could administer an otherwise prohibited drug, Laetrile, to a cancer patient. However, the commission allowed Shamim to resume his practice after he received additional training in general medicine and oncology.
Shamim denied the 1984 charges. "I have been in front of nothing but kangaroo courts of prejudiced doctors," he said.
Shamim said he prescribes vitamins, minerals and special diets to treat various ailments, while relying less heavily than traditional doctors on some standard medications, treatments and diagnostic tests.
For example, Shamim says, cancer can be contained and in some cases even eradicated by organic vegetables and other nutritional therapies alone, depending on various factors.
Shamim said he does not discourage cancer patients from undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. Rather, he said, some people simply refuse those treatments or come to him after they fail.
Shamim said he once settled a malpractice case brought by the family of a deceased cancer patient but did not admit any responsibility for the death.