The story of Penelope Dingle, a woman with such passion and zest for life, was as tragic as they come. A diagnosis of bowel cancer at age 43 is not good news, but things could be worse. ‘Worse’ is when you superimpose the ‘care’ of Francine Scrayen, a homeopath who had heard from her psychic that together, she and Penny were going to perform a “medical miracle” by curing her, then add the collusion of a husband who was fully ideologically attuned to such an ‘alternative approach’. Finally, ‘protect’ Penny from the ‘negative vibrations’, questions and concerns of her family with a layer of control and isolation that would make Scientology look transparent.
Inevitably, the tumor and bowel obstruction grew until Penny was found “lying on a mattress on the loungeroom floor screaming in pain, with her abdomen grossly distended and appearing very frightened”. She was essentially ‘rescued’ by her sisters and taken to the Emergency Department and then to surgery. It was to be too late. Penny died two years later following lung metastases.
I don’t need to opine on this story as the Coroner’s Report says almost all that needed to be said, with the exception of ‘should be charged with’. It is simply essential reading. The Coroner noted that; “The problem in this case was that Mrs Scrayen was not a competent health professional”, nor was she “a witness of truth”. As for Penny’s partner, Dr Peter Dingle, it appears that Dr Dingle “was a victim of his own misinformation and did not take the positive actions which would normally be expected of a person in his position to save a loved one from herself.”
In this toxic mix of egos, fantasy, arrogance and myopic self-belief, the only thing that was present in a homeopathic dose was sense on the part of Dr Dingle and Ms Scrayen.
Penny’s sisters are now compiling a book of her life and work. It should be a fitting memorial but perhaps more valuable would be that every time we hear ‘alternative therapies’ touted as a perfectly legitimate ‘different approach’ to the treatment of serious illness, people will read Penny’s final letter to her fake ‘healer’ and think again.