In perhaps the first lawsuit of its kind, a parent of a boy with autism is suing his son's doctors, claiming they provided treatments without proven scientific benefit. The suit says the treatments were expensive and carried risks of serious harm.
James Coman filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Dr. Anjum Usman and Dr. Daniel Rossignol over the treatment of his 7-year-old son with autism. Usman treated the boy at her clinic in Naperville, Ill., while Rossignol prescribed treatments by phone without meeting the patient, the suit alleges.
"It's fraud, pure and simple, and they made a lot of money off my family and they're making a lot of money off a lot of families," Coman told ABCNews.com.
Usman and Rossignol are part of a physician's group called Defeat Autism Now, part of the Autism Research Institute. The group advocates a number of autism treatments discredited by mainstream doctors. As of press time, the directors had not replied to an e-mail seeking comment.
Among the treatments prescribed, according to the suit, were 30 different vitamin supplements and the use of intravenous chelation therapy. Chelation, which in this case was done 37 times, is used medically to remove heavy metals from the body. The procedure is done based on the largely-discredited theory that autism is caused by heavy metal poisoning.
The National Institutes of Health cancelled a 2008 study of chelation as an autism treatment, saying "there was no clear evidence for direct benefit to the children who would participate in the chelation trial and that the study presents more than a minimal risk."
That assessment has been confirmed by experts since.
"There doesn't seem to be any scientific justification for using chelation to treat autism," said Dr. Paul Wax, executive director of the American College of Medical Toxicology and a toxicologist with the University of Texas, who is not involved in the case. "To date there's not been any scientific study that's revealed any definitive link between an environmental chemical and autism."
Chelation can cause a number of adverse effects, including kidney failure and death.
Coman, who is divorced from the mother of his son, said that as he researched the treatments being performed on his son, he became convinced something was wrong.
"I wasn't fully aware of the extent of the treatments, and when I researched the treatments online, I found that there was a very strong consensus that the treatments are not valid treatments for autism," he said. "My son does not have heavy metal poisoning. I'm not a doctor, so I don't know any of the details, but as far as I can tell and from what the doctors have told me, this is not a valid treatment for autism."
A number of court cases involving autism have made headlines in recent years, but most of those have involved parents suing for damages they claim are caused by vaccines. The Coman case is unusual.
"It is surprising that someone would turn against the physician who represents himself as the only one that cares," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of "Autism's False Prophets," a book about questionable autism treatments.