Heimlich's Son Pushes to Discredit Famous Dad

Dr. Henry Heimlich's name has been dropped from a prestigious humanitarian award following intense criticism of Dr. Heimlich's activities in recent years raised by his own son.

The H.J. Heimlich Humanitarian Award, given out since 1994 in recognition of the inventor of the life-saving Heimlich maneuver, has been renamed the Spirit of America Festival Humanitarian Award.

Award officials said they made the change in response to controversy generated about Dr. Heimlich by his son, Peter.   


A recent 20/20 investigation detailed Dr. Heimlich’s attempts to promote the use of his maneuver on near drowning victims and cystic fibrosis patients, which leading medical experts say is either useless or potentially dangerous.

Dr. Heimlich has also been criticized for supporting human studies into his theory that malaria can be used to treat AIDS patients. The application of so-called "malariatherapy" has been denounced by leading AIDS researchers as dangerous, scientifically unfounded and unethical.      

"The harm that he's caused overwhelms the good he accomplished," Peter Heimlich told ABC News about his father. "Any award named after Henry Heimlich is a contradiction."

Dr. Heimlich refused to speak to ABC News about his son's campaign. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Heimlich, spokesperson Bob Kraft said, "Peter harassed those poor people to change the name of their award."

Dr. Heimlich has also been released from his position as medical advisor for the Save-A-Life Foundation and disinvited as a speaker for a PanAfrica AIDS Conference.

In another significant setback, the use of the Heimlich maneuver on choking victims has been quietly downgraded by the American Red Cross. In new guidelines, the Red Cross recommends a series of five back slaps as the first course of action, followed by five Heimlich maneuver thrusts.

Back slaps had been the primary treatment used on choking victims until the Red Cross and the American Heart Association, following a joint medical conference in 1985, decided to abandon back slaps and instead promote only the Heimlich maneuver. That decision came about after a long and heated campaign during which Dr. Heimlich branded back slaps as "death blows."

The Heimlich maneuver gained widespread acceptance among the public when former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop denounced the use of other methods on choking victims.

"Today, there is universal agreement that these methods can be dangerous and should not be performed," Koop said. "The best rescue technique in any choking situation, doctors now agree, is the Heimlich maneuver."

"Every study in this shows that back slaps drive the food deeper and do not save lives, that only the Heimlich maneuver saves lives," eldest son Phil Heimlich told ABC News on behalf of his father.

At the 1985 Red Cross and AHA conference, however, only one study was cited that showed back slaps can be dangerous when used on choking victims. That study had been funded by Dr. Heimlich through an institution called the Dysphagia Foundation Inc., which was later renamed The Heimlich Institute, according to records from the Ohio secretary of state's office.

The Red Cross says its recent decision to change its guidelines was motivated by a desire to conform to international guidelines on choking, which emphasize more than one technique may be needed.

The American Heart Association continues to recommend using the Heimlich maneuver as the first course of action on choking victims, but also says it can be used in combination with back slaps.

Both the AHA and the Red Cross have also removed Dr. Heimlich's name from the maneuver, using a more instructive name: abdominal thrusts.

Phil Heimlich says that his father is accustomed to resistance from mainstream medical organizations.

According to Phil, "My father’s kind of had a history of coming out with discoveries and having to fight the medical establishment to get them to accept it."

Though Peter denies the charge, Phil also believes that Peter's campaign has been motivated by personal issues.

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