Would-be MP doctor linked to cult leader
A Sydney doctor who says the unregulated “esoteric healing” practices of a “socially harmful cult” lead to miracles every day is a senior lecturer in medicine at a NSW university and ran for Liberal Party preselection in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat.
Rheumatologist Maxine Szramka — a public supporter of Universal Medicine cult leader Serge Benhayon, who was found by a NSW Supreme Court jury last month to have an “indecent interest in … girls as young as 10” — failed in her bid to become the Liberal candidate for Wentworth but is still employed by the University of Wollongong.
A series of revelations in The Australian about cult-linked professionals working in health and psychology and receiving taxpayer subsidies, including Dr Szramka, has prompted federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to order an investigation.
Universal Medicine, which promotes a diet that has been linked to hospitalisations in northern NSW, has a network of legitimately registered health professionals on its books, including at least three psychologists, a neonatal paediatrician, Dr Szramka, an anti-fluoride dentist and a physiotherapist.
In total, there are 30 doctors, nurses, dentists and allied health professionals who are directly associated with the cult.
The University of Wollongong, which previously supervised the successful PhD of antivaccination campaigner Judy Wilyman, declined to comment.
The University of Queensland launched an academic misconduct investigation in May after the ABC revealed that three members of its faculty of medicine publicly advocated for the cult without disclosing their association on research that was later published in two journals.
“The university can confirm that Dr Mark Jones is no longer employed by UQ and Dr Amelia Stephens, previously a lecturer and casual academic, has not been engaged since June,” a spokeswoman told The Australian.
“An investigation relating to published research is nearing completion.”
In a now-deleted endorsement on Universal Medicine’s website, Dr Szramka wrote: “I have seen many things that we would consider as miracles in medicine, yet they are everyday, ordinary occurrences in ordinary people at Universal Medicine. I am aware that some of the teachings of Universal Medicine may initially sound unconventional to some, but it is (sic) results and changes in people that speak very loudly.”
Dr Szramka recently wrote an open letter to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency about the history of doctors being “investigated and prosecuted” for speaking beyond medical science.
She has previously been the subject of at least one complaint to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.
“Doctors learn much in their clinical practices in addition to the scientific literature and need to be free to express their experiences and leanings without fear of having their medical licence removed,” she wrote on her blog in August.
Dr Szramka was also the lead author of a submission from the Esoteric Practitioners Association — a creation of the former bankrupt and one-time tennis coach Mr Benhayon — to a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the complains commission that said “esoteric modalities” were complementary medicine, not alternative.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said the Minister “is concerned about these allegations” and would “write to AHPRA about it, ask them to look at the allegations closely, and report back”.
A key defender of Mr Benhayon — who told a court he was the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci — is Ray Karam, an “active member” of the Nationals party who tried unsuccessfully to be preselected for the state seat of Lismore.
Dr Szramka and Mr Karam did not respond to repeated requests for comment.