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Heimlich award to be presented despite protests by doctor’s son

By Emily Peck
epeck@decaturdaily.com · 340-2408

A humanitarian award named for H.J. Heimlich will be given at Wednesday’s Spirit of America Festival despite protests from his estranged son.

The controversy doesn’t involve the presenters or recipients. The dispute centers on the name Henry Heimlich, or rather the appearance of that name before the word humanitarian.

“Our purpose at Spirit of America Festival is to honor those that do good and serve our nation. It’s just not right that such a great award should be tainted by family controversy,” said David Carney, Spirit of America awards chairman.

For the last five years, Peter Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman have engaged in a crusade to expose the famous doctor as a fraud.

For Peter Heimlich, it’s unfair for the Marines “to be unwittingly associated” with a “long history of misconduct.”

Removing the award from the festival after this year would be an appropriate action, he told The Daily.

Leaders of the festival said the humanitarian award will still go to the U.S. Marine Battery K of Huntsville, but they declined to comment on whether the award will be eliminated or renamed.

The award honors Henry Heimlich for his invention of the Heimlich maneuver, an abdominal thrust technique that has saved thousands of lives.

It is for later theories that the Heimlich name evokes criticism.

“People don’t know it, but for decades my father has conducted illegal human experiments on Third World patients and Americans, too, intentionally infecting people with malaria,” said Peter Heimlich.

According to an article recently published in The New Republic, Henry Heimlich began campaigning for the practice of malariatherapy in the 1980s. He originally used it to treat cancer patients in Mexico City.

Later, the doctor hypothesized that infecting HIV and AIDS patients with curable strains of malaria could boost their immune systems. His ideas have been used to experiment on AIDS victims in China and East Africa. For a period of weeks, patients must remain untreated for malaria in order for the experiments to work.

“These experiments have been censured by the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and leading bioethicists,” Peter Heimlich said.

Malariatherapy was a popular practice through much of the 20th century, said Bob Kraft, spokesman for Henry Heimlich.

Before the discovery of penicillin, it was used as a cure for syphilis. In 1927, Julius Wagner von Jauregg won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work with malariatherapy.

When asked about Henry Heimlich’s humanitarianism, Kraft listed a number of achievements, including the doctor’s decision to volunteer for hazardous duties in World War II.

“Dr. Heimlich has lived a life full of innovative medicine and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Kraft.

Now 87, the doctor refuses to comment on his son’s attacks. Kraft said Heimlich regards the dispute as a painful and private family matter.

Marine Battery K will accept the award for its involvement in Toys for Tots.

The controversy will not detract from honors due for U.S. Marines, said Carney.

“One small group of people has participated in the most humanitarian project I could imagine,” he said. “I am extremely honored to recognize them with the humanitarian award.”

The award was originally presented to Heimlich in 1994. At the time, Heimlich called the event the proudest moment of his life.

“I’m proud that they have associated my name with humanitarianism ... it fits with my life at this point,” he said.

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