A temple worker in Taoyuan has been indicted after an autopsy found that herbal medicine she sold to a temple patron last year caused the patron’s death.
A betel nut saleswoman surnamed Lai (賴), 28, was left with red blotches on her cheeks after undergoing cosmetic surgery.
She was visiting a temple in the city’s Dayuan District (大園) on June 30 last year when a woman surnamed Chiu (邱), 51, who was selling herbal medicine at a stall inside the temple, noticed her red cheeks and called out to her.
Chiu allegedly told Lai that her cheeks were a symptom of “toxicity” in her body and that she could detoxify herself by consuming two teaspoons daily of ground Chinese staff vine, or Celastrus angulatus, the indictment said.
Chiu sold the herbal medicine to Lai for NT$1,000, which she took every day as instructed, the indictment said, adding that on July 14, Lai contracted a high fever that worsened the following day, after which she was rushed to Linkou’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.
However, she did not respond to medical treatment and died on Aug. 9, it said.
An autopsy revealed that Lai contracted toxic hepatitis from consuming the vine, which led to acute liver necrosis and organ failure, the Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office said.
As Lai’s condition worsened, she developed hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy — a condition that arises when the brain is deprived of oxygen, prosecutors said.
Chiu said she did not force Lai to take the herbal medicine, that she had not intended to profit from selling it and that she was not acting as a medical practitioner, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Chiu’s actions constituted an attempt to practice medicine without a license, contravening the Physicians’ Act (醫師法), which could make her guilty of negligent homicide.
Chang Gung Memorial Hospital toxicology ward director Yan Tsung-hai (顏宗海) on Saturday said that the vine is frequently used in herbal medicines throughout Asia, as it is believed to reduce fever and inflammation, among other effects.
However, research in Taiwan and abroad has found that the vine can have adverse effects on the body, including acute hepatitis, and can even lead to organ failure — which is what happened in Lai’s case, Yan said.
People should always seek help from registered medical practitioners, he said.
Ministry of Health and Welfare official in charge of herbal medicine Chen Pin-chi (陳聘琪) said that Chinese staff vine is not used by recognized traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, but is commonly used in folk remedies.
People should not consume the vine, Chen said.
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