British Columbia

Naturopaths 'not bound by science,' lawyer argues in B.C. hearing on fecal transplants for autism

Jason Klop is petitioning for judge to strike down ban on FMT sales and probes into his business

Posted: June 29, 2022

B.C. naturopath Jason Klop claims he can treat autism spectrum disorder in children with fecal microbiota transplants. (Novel Biome)

The lawyer for a Fraser Valley naturopath facing investigation for his business selling fecal microbiota transplants to families of autistic children argued in a B.C. courtroom Tuesday that naturopaths are 'not bound by science.'

Naturopath Jason Klop was in B.C. Supreme Court petitioning for a judge to order the College of Naturopathic Physicians to end its investigations into his business and lift his ban on manufacturing, advertising and selling pills and enemas made from human feces.

In explaining the ban, the college has said Klop may be engaged in conduct unbecoming of a naturopathic physician, but lawyer Jason Gratl argued that's difficult to prove in a field with somewhat nebulous boundaries and relatively few restrictions.

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"What does it take for a naturopath to do something unbecoming in a field that is so broad and open to interpretation?" he asked the court, arguing only substantial harm to patients would meet the bar.

Gratl suggested the college needs better defined standards to show that using fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) to treat autism could harm patients.

"In certain respects, naturopaths may rely on science, but they are not bound by science," Gratl said.

He explained that naturopathic practices can instead be based on anecdotes or historical knowledge, and later pointed out that the field includes homeopathy, "which some say involves magical thinking [and is] certainly non-scientific at its core."

Treatment not approved for autism in Canada

As CBC first reported in January 2020, Klop has been charging parents about $15,000 US for autistic children as young as two years old to have FMT, mainly at a clinic in the Mexican oceanside city of Rosarito.

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FMT treatments involve taking bacteria and other microbes from the poop of a healthy person and transferring them to a patient either anally or orally, with the goal of restoring a normal environment inside the gut.

Right now, FMT is only approved in Canada and the U.S. for treatment of recurrent C. difficile infection that hasn't responded to other therapies, but research is underway into a wide range of other possible applications.

An illustration shows how fecal microbiota transplants are produced. (Vancouver Island Health Authority)

Doctors and scientists have warned that, at the moment, any other use of this emerging therapy is experimental and carries serious risk of infection, while people with autism have denounced Klop's procedure as an unproven treatment that puts vulnerable children in danger.

Last August, the college announced it was taking "extraordinary action" to protect the public, banning Klop from producing or selling FMT products while it investigates his business, Novel Biome.

The order came in response to an April 2021 complaint from a former employee at Klop's lab, who alleged that he was producing FMT products in a basement apartment in Abbotsford using his nephews' feces, without any quality control or proper screening.

Complaint called 'unfounded and scurrilous'

After describing the case as a "tragedy" in his opening remarks on Tuesday, Gratl described the allegations in the April 2021 complaint as "entirely unfounded and scurrilous." 

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He spent much of the day's hearing refuting them, and arguing they don't meet the legal bar for extraordinary action.

Although he acknowledged that Klop's three nephews were the business's only donors at the time of the complaint and clarified that the lab was in a ground-level unit of the building where the boys lived, Gratl said Klop has submitted evidence of his quality assurance processes and standard operating procedures.

Gratl also said the nephews had their blood and feces tested every three months, which he described as standard for FMT. The court heard Klop has deposed that he was confident of the quality of their feces because "they are my nephews, so I know their lifestyles."

The original complaint had also claimed that Klop's lab manager had no scientific qualifications. Gratl said the lab manager actually wrote the complaint using a pseudonym, and counter to her allegations, has 20 years of experience in the field.

He described her as a disgruntled employee who was upset about her position in the company.

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Gratl also argued that the college had made several legal errors in its actions against Klop, including accusing him of conduct unbecoming for breaching non-binding Health Canada guidance documents on FMT.

He suggested the college is pursuing restrictions and investigations related to Klop because of a squeamishness about poop rather than any valid concerns about patient safety.

"I've asked my children, 'why do you find fecal matter funny?' They can't stop laughing to answer," Gratl said.

Lawyers for the college have yet to present their arguments.

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However, court filings show that the lab manager's complaint is not the only source of concern for the college when it comes to Klop's business.

The investigation process actually began two years earlier, in 2019, when the college appointed inspectors with the private investigation firm Paladin Risk Solutions to look into allegations he was engaging in improper business relationships and violating federal drug policies.

The hearing of Klop's petitions to the court is scheduled to continue on Wednesday.

Fecal transplants are only approved for use in recurrent C. difficile infections in Canada. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay
Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a journalist for CBC News in Vancouver with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.