A RELIGIOUS group that tells cancer patients and anorexics they have chosen to be ill and miracles can cure them was condemned by doctors and charity groups yesterday.
The United States-based Course in Miracles International has hired the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh's Quincentenary Hall and the Hub, at the top of the Royal Mile, for what they call a "Miracle Festival" next week. They are targeting ill Scots and inviting them to join their meetings.
The British Medical Association said yesterday: "No organisation should be preying on the vulnerability of people who are unwell."
Last night, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) said it had been unaware of the group's intentions when the event was booked, but added that it could not get out of the agreement because contracts had already been signed.
A spokesman said: "We would like to make clear that the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh does not endorse the views of this organisation. We will be raising our concerns with the event organisers."
It is understood the RCSEd believed the hall was to be used for teacher-training. But, instead, the organisation is offering "mind-training", which promises to change how people view this life and free themselves of their ills.
The group says it can help people with a range of illnesses, including cancer, and also those with eating disorders, alcohol and drug addiction.
Wolter van Verschuer, a Course in Miracles member, said: "We want to change the way that people think about life. It will make you look in a different way at yourself. It has a complete basis on the teachings of Jesus Christ."
The organisation's website includes controversial statements suggesting illnesses such as cancer are a person's own choice.
It states: "No-one suffers pain except his choice elects this state for him. No-one can grieve, nor fear, nor think him sick unless these are the outcomes that he wants. And no-one dies without his own consent."
Mr van Verschuer admitted this was a tough stance, but he invited people with cancer and other diseases to go to the event, adding: "Sickness is a decision that you have made."
The three-day event starts next Friday. Those attending are invited to make a donation of 25 for each day they attend.
Jan Stirrat, of the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign, said she had never met anyone who would choose to have cancer.
"To say this is the case is totally unbelievable," she said. "Some people do find some help and comfort in their religion, but to say that people choose to have it is ridiculous."
Kate Fearnley, of Alzheimer Scotland, said: "Dementia is an illness and people need help and support to cope with it, not to be taken advantage of by outfits peddling miracle cures."
'I have been released from something that tortured me'
YVONNE Powell suffered from an eating disorder for more than 15 years. By last summer, anorexia and bulimia had reduced her weight to six-and-a-half stones, and she could fit in clothes meant for eight- to ten-year-olds.
But then a friend referred the 39-year-old to A Course In Miracles last November and she travelled to the United States to take part in their "mind training".
Ms Powell said she is now back to a healthier weight and enjoying life. "The whole point is that you live each moment as it is given and you are not planning and planning the whole time," she said. "You realise that you can only deal with what is in front on you.
"I focused on my spiritual relationship and it worked for me."
Ms Powell said she understood some people might be suspicious that the course was some kind of cult.
But she said: "It is about your own spiritual awakening. It is about how you can learn to change your mind about what you believe. You can believe you are ill or you can believe you are happy and be free of it. There is a miracle there.
"I have been released from something that has tortured me for years."