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Court upholds award to fasting victim's family

By ROB GLOSTER

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal appeals court Tuesday affirmed a jury's award of $873,000 to the widow of a man who died while undergoing an extensive fast at a medical facility that 'literally allowed (him) to starve to death.'

William Carlton weighed 192 pounds when he checked into the Shelton Health School in San Antonio, Texas, in 1978 for treatment of ulcerative colitis, a disorder of the colon, the opinion of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

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Twenty-nine days later, Carlton died of severe dehydration and malnutrition. The 49-year-old man weighed 130 pounds at the time of his death, said the opinion written by Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr.

A panel of three 5th Circuit judges refused to disturb the finding of a San Antonio jury that 'Carlton died as a result of negligence and gross neligence' and declined to lessen the $873,000 award to the man's widow and four children.

The Shelton Health Clinic, operated by chiropractors Herbert Shelton and Vivian Vetrano, encourages 'the practice of extended fasting for the treatment of numerous illnesses,' Johnson wrote.

The clinic and its operators had argued before the circit court there was insufficient evidence to sustain the jury's findings of negligence and gross negligence and that the lower court judge erred by allowing jurors to hear evidence of similar, prior deaths at the facility.

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The circuit judges rejected both arguments, saying 'there is a plethora of evidence supporting the jury's findings ... and the district court did not improperly admit the evidence of previous deaths.'

'The evidence presented to the jury demonstrated that Dr. Vetrano literally allowed Carlton to starve to death,' Johnson wrote.

Carlton was given only two cups of distilled water a day, while 'no vitamins or food supplements were administered and virtually no record of the decedent's progress was kept by Dr. Vetrano,' the opinion said.

Carlton was unable to leave his bed for almost four days before being transferred to San Antonio's Baptist Memorial Hospital -- where he died soon after admission.

'Dr. Vetrano displayed a wanton and reckless disregard for the welfare of William Carlton,' the opinion said. 'Dr. Vetrano was grossly negligent when she had seen three people waste away and die under substantially similar circumstances.

'More relevant evidence of her wanton and reckless disregard for the welfare of her patients cannot be fathomed.'

Carlton, who had been told by other doctors he would have to undergo a complete colostomy -- a surgical removal of the entire colon - decided to try the fasting technique after reading Shelton's book, 'Fasting Can Save Your Life.'

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