Universal Medicine

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Universal Medicine
Alternative medicine
Universal Medicine Wollongbar.png
Claims Esoteric healing; esoteric breast massage, chakra-puncture, ovarian readings, esoteric ovary massage, esoteric connective tissue therapy.
Related fields Esotericism, Occult, New Religious Movements, Pseudoscience, Religion, Theosophy.
Year proposed 1999[1]
Original proponents Serge Benhayon

Universal Medicine (UM) is an alternative medicine[2] and self-proclaimed religious organisation providing "Esoteric healing"[3][4] products, music, publications, workshops and courses. None of the healing modalities are evidence-based or have been proven effective by scientific research.[5][6] It is headed by its founder Serge Benhayon, a former bankrupt[7] tennis coach from Maroubra who has no medical qualifications.[5][8] The organization is principally located in Goonellabah and Wollongbar, NSW, Australia. Its UK headquarters is known as "The Lighthouse" and is situated in Tytherington, near Frome, Somerset, England.

The signature treatments practiced and taught by Universal Medicine are "esoteric[9] breast massage", "esoteric healing", "ovarian readings",[8][10][11] "chakra-puncture", "esoteric connective tissue therapy" and "esoteric ovary massage". All treatments were devised by Serge Benhayon[5] who has claimed the business grosses at least AUD$2 million a year from courses and retreats.[7][12]

The followers of its self-proclaimed religion,[13] "The Way of the Livingness", are known collectively as "The Student Body". "The Teachings" are classified into meditation, self-care, nutrition, exercise, music, re-incarnation, psychological wellbeing and the esoteric, and are supported by audio, books, and online lectures. Serge Benhayon reportedly calls himself "the descended master"[14] and followers believe he "was the one sent from (the mythical kingdom of) Shamballa to awaken us all".[15]

While Benhayon has denied engaging in unethical practices,[16] significant evidence to the contrary has been documented.

Context of claims[edit]

I know more than any scientist in my inner heart ... I know everything about the universe and how it works. I can answer any question about any mystery in the world, any mystery in the universe.

Serge Benhayon's message for the "New Era", January 1, 2012[1]

Esoteric healing beliefs are based on the occult teachings of early 20th century theosophist Alice A. Bailey.[1][17] Serge Benhayon has claimed to be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci,[1][18][19] as well as Alice A. Bailey, Pythagoras, Imhotep and Saint Peter. He has written that Leonardo da Vinci is a "Claimed Son of God"[12] and teaches that he is connected energetically to an ancient lineage of "living wisdom", and more "High Initiates" and Claimed Sons of God will reincarnate "over and over again until each and every single human is united as one, by their true light". Benhayon also claims that his daughter, Simone, a swimming teacher, is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill.[1][20]

Serge Benhayon devised Universal Medicine's healing practices based on the belief that disease is caused by energetic disharmony resulting from ill choices made in this and previous lifetimes. Benhayon teaches that there are two types of energy: prana (प्राण, prāṇa; Sanskrit for life force) and fire.[1] Most forms of established wisdom, knowledge and belief, as well as most music and certain foods are believed to contain prana, which he regards as evil.[21] Prana is to be rejected or cleared to be replaced with "fiery energy" which emanates from the "Atmic womb of God". Universal Medicine healing modalities and products, including teas, herbal elixirs, creams and laminated healing symbol postcards, aim to clear prana.[1][8]

Benhayon claims disabilities such as Autism and Down Syndrome are karma for past life sins. He has also controversially stated on many occasions that sexual abuse, including that towards children, is karma from past lives and the universe attempting to stop a person from continuing to make non-loving choices.[12] He also teaches that illness is caused by the possession of the body by evil spirits, and is reported to have told a terminally ill patient that an evil spirit had entered her liver and kidneys.[1]

Benhayon teaches that for western secular women "the ultimate rape is rejection".[22] On race he writes that skin color evolution was a conscious choice and that Asians chose yellow skin, "yellow signifies the intellect" and the "pursuit of a lighter complexion arose when Black (sic) became erroneously identified with the Darkness (sic)."[12]

During a religious presentation in September 2017 Benhayon boasted he could orgasm "as a hermaphrodite" (sic), claiming he had the extraordinary ability to climax as a woman and ejaculate as a man simultaneously.[22][23][24]

Universal Medicine and The Way of the Livingness has followers in Australia, the UK, North America and Europe.[1] Critics have characterised it as a cult,[7][8][25][26] which has left a "trail of broken families".[7] An ex-partner of a Universal Medicine supporter complained that Benhayon "controlled every aspect of our lives".[14] Benhayon, who is reportedly referred to as a "fifth degree initiate" and "The One",[8] rejects these claims[26][13] and according to the Chilling Effects website and other sources he has used legal threats to attempt to have cult allegations, including those within media reports, removed from Google search indexes.[27][28] The group's devotees and practitioners reportedly inundate media organisations who publish stories on UM with written complaints.[29][12] Officially UM denies it is a cult, but when Australian Doctor questioned Amelia Stephens, a public advocate of UM and a Brisbane doctor, she replied "This depends on what your definition of a cult is."[24][30]

Followers claim to be members of UM, which they assert is "like a religion" but Benhayon contradicted this saying he ran a business with clients and that there is "no group and no members".[13] The disputed religion "The Way of the Livingness" is one which Benhayon currently operates under his Universal Medicine business.[31] It was denied charitable status in the UK in 2011 as it did not meet the criteria of a genuine religion.[32][33]

Treatments and practices[edit]

Universal Medicine markets practitioner training and accreditation through its Esoteric Practitioner Association Pty Ltd, however the training is not recognized by the Australian government and "esoteric practitioners" are not accredited.[5] Members of the association are charged an annual fee.[34] Clients have been reported to spend tens of thousands of Australian dollars on Universal Medicine products and services.[7][19]

Benhayon's "esoteric connective tissue therapy" is said to improve the patient's energy flow by "allowing the pulse of the lymphatic system to symbiotically correspond with the body's own ensheathing web". Prof. John Dwyer describes the existence of a lymphatic pulse as "utter nonsense".[8] Universal Medicine also provides counselling services to parents, body awareness education workshops to young women[35] as well as cardiosacral pulse and craniosacral readings.[10]

In November 2014 Universal Medicine's treatments were highlighted in a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry report by the Health Care Complaints Committee which states:

"While there is little anecdotal evidence to suggest actual harm caused by these treatments, concerns were raised that patients may forego seeking proper medical advice and care. Two patients who were undergoing therapies at Universal Medicine were independently diagnosed with cancer and bronchiectasis respectively, and required proper medical intervention in order to be properly treated."[5]

Universal Medicine lobbied the local NSW MP for Ballina Don Page to have these unfavourable comments removed from the Parliamentary Inquiry Report.[12]

Controversy surrounds referrals for esoteric treatments by some doctors,[8][36] a situation that medical regulators say is difficult to address.[1][7][37] During the inquiry Don Page MP said these type of referrals "would give most people considerable concern."[38] Universal Medicine's registered allied health practitioners allegedly encourage followers to seek GP referral for Medicare treatment plans to pay for sessions. A former patient who received treatment from a UM physiotherapist under a Medicare plan reported the "Universal physio claimed her health was improving from 'craniosacral pulse' therapy", however, "her GP ordered tests that found she had cancer." The patient was reportedly told by Universal Medicine that "doctors will make you sicker than you already are".[39] Another patient was told by a thoracic physician and student of UM that conventional HRT was harmful and "deep-seated grief is a major driving factor in lung disease".[40][34] Professor Dwyer stated that it was "highly reprehensible" that medical professionals registered on a "promise to practise evidence-based medicine" were engaged in promoting "cultish behaviour".[24]

Serge Benhayon has responded to such accusations with assertions UM does not "interfere with medicine... We do not hold ourselves above medicine. We are super pro medicine."[10] Sydney paediatrician and "Baby Doc" author, Howard Chilton, has endorsed Benhayon as a "teacher of enormous integrity". Chilton has given talks at the company's women's health forums but claims his support for UM is a personal matter unrelated to evidence based practice. Chilton's daughter is married to Benhayon's son.[12] UM associated thoracic surgeon Sam Kim states UM is a reputable healing organisation, not a cult.[41]

The treatments have been characterised as "sleazy" with one ex-patient comparing her experience to being subjected to a "grooming exercise".[11] UM has responded by taking the ex-patient to the NSW Supreme Court alleging defamation.[42]

Benhayon confirmed the group held a "book burning"[43] near Mullumbimby in 2009. Others reported it as "just like the ritual burning of books in Nazi Germany", where Benhayon's students were invited to throw their books onto the pyre. Most books burnt were on Chinese medicine, kinesiology, acupuncture, homeopathy and other alternative healing modalities, all of which Benhayon had decreed "prana"[1] which he considers "evil".[21]

Esoteric breast massage[edit]

Esoteric breast massage, stated by the group to be administered only by women,[8] has been reportedly promoted to "cure or prevent breast cancer"[44][45][43] by rekindling femaleness.[20] This was described as "irresponsible, dangerous and misleading" by Matthew Lam, research director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.[29] NSW Cancer Council CEO Dr Andrew Penman said there was no medical evidence massage could prevent breast cancer.[44] Esoteric breast massage claims have also been dismissed by Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).[44] A former esoteric breast massage patient reported Universal Medicine staff told her it would prevent breast cancer by "clearing… all of men’s negative energy" accumulated over her lifetime. She recalled it as "the most horrible thing I’ve ever had in my entire life."[10] Esoteric breast massage also claims "to heal many issues such as painful periods, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, bloating/water retention, and pre-menstrual and menopausal symptoms".[4][37] Such claims have been described as "ludicrous" by University of NSW Emeritus Professor of Medicine, John Dwyer.[37] According to changes recorded in the web archive, those claims were erased from the esoteric breast massage website coinciding with the onset of media scrutiny in July 2012, along with assertions such as:

"The breasts are emanators of a quality of DIVINE TRUTH that begins at the heart. The heart in connection to the pubic bone chakra, which is aligned to the ovaries, brings the emanation of nurturing out for all to have."[46]

When questioned on what aspect of health is addressed by esoteric breast massage in September 2012, Serge Benhayon stated: "Disconnection to their bodies".[3]

Regulatory and other issues[edit]

Accusations of misconduct against Universal Medicine have drawn attention from the regulatory bodies, Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency[2][45] and the TGA.[25][47] The NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing investigated claims of breach of Australian charitable fundraising laws by the charity the "College of Universal Medicine" and referred these to the police.[4][48]

Benhayon's daughter Simone is one of the Trustees of The Sound Foundation in the UK, a second related charitable organisation that Universal Medicine called one of its "two main world headquarters".[20] The Sound Foundation was the subject of a 2013 complaint to the Charity Commission for England and Wales which found extensive irregularities and resulted in the charity being given a mandatory compliance plan.[49] It also attracted attention from a National Health Service Forum who distanced itself from the group.[50] Benhayon is the father of four children, all who hold positions within the organisation.

Universal Medicine is reported to have received a portion of AUD$709,493 federal funds to provide six public lectures and "counselling services to parents" under a Commonwealth grant scheme applied for by the YWCA. The Australian Government refused to fully release documents explaining how the funds were used, saying "YWCA raised objections… including that the information does not accurately reflect YWCA’s activities" and could "have an adverse effect on the YWCA by affecting its relationships with other entities and its reputation".[35]

Critics say Universal Medicine places unreasonable pressure on followers to adhere to a severely restricted diet and to avoid most exercise for fear those things might "infect their spiritual alignment" and lead to poor health.[10] Followers are reportedly told health problems result from wrongdoings in their past lives.[39] Cult Counselling Australia director Raphael Aron said his organisation had a researcher working full-time on Universal Medicine after counselling former clients who were concerned about its influence on their children.[3] Aron said CCA had also counselled breakaway followers, who were still "battling" to withdraw emotionally from the group[7] and that

UM seems to be "exercising a level of mind control to the point where people submit to whatever this fellow seems to be offering, to their detriment... What he’s doing is potentially very dangerous."[10]

Benhayon denies he or the group interfere in "the students" personal lives but detractors say relationships become impossible when everything from music to sex must be "Serge-approved".[15]

An investigation by ABC News in April 2018 revealed that The University of Queensland was investigating conflicts of interest of three of its faculty who were "acolytes" advocating for Universal Medicine. Video allegedly shows four researchers, two of whom are doctors, publicly advocating UM practices. Two more of the nine are presenters for the College of Universal Medicine. Professor John Dywer stated that: "[They] have let the university down badly in their fervour for promoting the benefits of Universal Medicine's approach to treatments, which have no basis in science, couldn't possibly be effective, and really represent a pre-scientific approach to how the body works and interacts with God and the universe". After receiving a 12-page letter from a third party whistleblower The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) raised "serious concerns" as to the conflict of interest of the authors of the UM related articles it published. The editorial director stated that: "the omission of this conflict of interest, which appears to be highly significant in this case, is a clear violation of our policies"[24][51] and suggested both articles published in the JMIR should be retracted. JMIR was also "very concerned" when it was revealed that the "original results paper contained large statistical errors inflating the effect sizes" and concluded "the proposed and executed research does not provide any evidence that any Universal Medicine modalities are effective in making people healthier". When the original peer-reviewers of the papers were made aware of the extensive conflicts of interest, they stated they would not of accepted the manuscripts had they been aware of this fact upon submission.[6]

Australian medical authorities and Dr Samuel Kim[edit]

Following an investigation by the NSW Medical Council in 2017 a Universal Medicine advocate and affiliated doctor, Samuel Tae-Kyu Kim was reprimanded for referring a patient for esoteric lung massage and chakra puncture:[52] "knowing there was insufficient evidence for their efficacy as treatments for Patient A’s lung condition." The physician, whose clinic is located in the Universal Medicine Clinic in Goonellabah,[53] claimed chakra puncture is an "internationally recognized therapy", however only practiced by Universal Medicine. The Council heard evidence from a Senior Specialst and thoracic physician, who stated:

Universal Medicine "affects an attitude which conventional medicine abandoned in the 19th century and this heightens the need to clearly distinguish for patients the difference between conventional medicine and Universal Medicine. Particularly as it is unclear, given it is a relatively new organisation, how Universal Medicine’s training programs are accredited."[53]

The HCCC alleged Dr Samuel Kim had withheld conventional therapy[36] and the investigation focussed on his referrals to his now wife Jasna Jugovic (esoteric lung massage) and three "Universal Medicine practitioners" Neil Ringe (chakra puncture), Serge Benhayon (spiritual healing) and Michael Serafin (non-medically trained pharmacist).[54] The investigating committee found Kim to lack contrition, and at times to be an unreliable witness and his evidence to be contradictory.[34] Following the enquiry, the HCCC found 5 out of 6 allegations against Dr Kim proven, him "guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct" (which he admits to), and concluded by placing permanent restrictions upon his practice.[34]

Dr Kim stood down from the Australian Medical Association Queensland council in May 2018 after ABC News investigated a second case of professional misconduct where he had shared the entire medical and medication records of a patient with Serge Benhayon without the patient's knowledge. The patient had criticised Universal Medicine in the media and Kim claims he obtained the patient’s verbal consent. The NSW Privacy Commissioner disagreed and found Dr Kim had breached Health Privacy Principles,[41] violated the patients privacy and its report said it was "unclear ... why it was necessary for Dr Kim to provide such a summary of what appears to be Mr Martin's entire medical history to Mr Benhayon". Dr Shaun Rudd, the AMA Queensland chairman, said the council had "a robust conflict of interest policy and AMA Queensland has full confidence in Dr Kim's ability to serve as a councillor".[55] Kim stated that he was a 'student' of Universal Medicine and an honorary advisor at Benhayon’s College of Universal Medicine, but had no financial interests in the organisation.[41]

Other privacy and confidentiality issues[edit]

An ex-patient and HCCC complainant,[19] who was vilified on Universal Medicine websites said the organization accuses "everyone else of cyberbullying while embarking on a systematic, online pack hunt". Numerous students of the organisation unknown to the complainant have openly disputed her medical conditions online. Benhayon has defended the group’s right to do so.[12]

The former Queensland mental health commissioner was scathing of Universal Medicine after the UM "Facts Team" breached privacy and published an ex-UM client's full name, image and schizophrenia diagnosis online after he criticised them. Prior to the outing in 2018 the man had been anonymous. The former commissioner Lesley van Schoubroeck said:

it is "entirely inappropriate for any organisation, particularly one purporting to be a health organisation, to publicly reveal identifying information of anyone's diagnosis, be it mental health or physical health" and "people with schizophrenia suffer stigma and discrimination in the workplace and in the community".[55]

When interviewed by the ABC the ex-client expressed concern about his future job prospects due to the privacy breach.[55]

Criticism removed from Google searches[edit]

Universal Medicine uses the services of private investigations firm Phoenix Global for online reputation management.[12][27][56] Benhayon says he has nothing to hide[18] and claims the print media has printed "scurrilous lies".[16] He and his associates have submitted numerous requests to Google Australia to remove internet links to news articles, websites or blogs that might question or criticize UM.[28] Google Australia reportedly acted on complaints about more than 15 independent websites, as well as reports from seven news organizations.[27][57] According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, a total of 36 blogs have been removed. Links to television news reports, ABC radio reports and newspaper articles critical of Universal Medicine have also been removed from the internet.[12]

Legal Issues[edit]

In December 2015 Benhayon appeared at the New South Wales Supreme Court when his sizeable inheritance from the estate of devotee Judith McIntyre was challenged by her children. The estate was estimated to be worth $1.1 million, $600,000 of which was intended for Benhayon. A further gift of $800,000 was given to Benhayon by McIntyre three days after executing her will. Both of McIntyre's children claimed their mother had a long history of following and giving money to gurus. Justice James Stevenson declined to alter the distribution of the estate and issued a ruling stating "that Ms McIntyre “appears to have carefully considered how she should dispose of her estate”.[58][59]

In June 2018 Justice McCallum, of the Supreme Court NSW, ordered Benhayon to produce photographs and videos of workshops or sessions that relate to the technique of “Deeper Femaleness” which display the “hands on” healing technique practiced by Universal Medicine. He was also ordered to produce a list of donations received, tax returns and other financial statements. The ruling comes as part of an ongoing defamation trial in which Benhayon is suing a blogger, Esther Rockett, for defamation.[31][60]

Subsidiary companies and organizations[edit]

Universal Medicine comprises a number of companies and organizations based in Australia and the UK.

  • All Rise Say No to Cyber Abuse PRI/LBG/NSC (UK)
  • College of Universal Medicine (registered charity)[41]
  • EPA EU/UK (Esoteric Practitioners Association)
  • Esoteric Practitioners Association Pty Ltd[34]
  • Esoteric Women's Health Pty Ltd
  • Evolve College (formerly Australian College of Massage)
  • Featherlight Productions
  • Fiery Investments Pty Ltd, Fiery Impulses Pty Ltd[43]
  • Glorious Music[14]
  • Real Media Real Change Pty Ltd[13]
  • Simple Living Global
  • Sound Foundation Charitable Trust[20] (UK registered charity)
  • Sound Foundation Community Care[20] (UK registered charity)
  • Spherical Living Clinic Ltd (UK)
  • Teachers are Gold
  • The Co-Creative
  • The Girl to Woman Festival
  • The Girl to Woman Project
  • True Movement
  • UM Cold Storage & Warehousing
  • UniMed Brisbane Pty Ltd
  • UniMed Living[6]
  • UniMed Perth
  • UniMed Publishing
  • Universal Healing Symbols
  • Universal Medicine Pty Ltd
  • Universal Medicine/The Universal Family (Discretionary) Trust
  • Universal Medicine UK Ltd
  • Women in Livingness Magazine

References[edit]

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