5 May 2009

Homeopathy and more Most Haunted

Yesterday, I tweeted this story about a 9-month old child with eczema whose parents decided that rather than provide proper medical care, they would instead 'treat' her with homeopathy.

Unsurprisingly, the child contracted septicemia due to numerous infections and, tragically, died.

I was, as you can imagine, absolutely incandescent with rage about this story and I'll explain why.

Whenever discussions arise, usually at work, about alternative therapy (or complementary medicine as they now like to call it) I always take the view that there is no evidence that the majority of alternative therapies work, so I'm disinclined to believe in them.

Invariably, I'm then placed on the spot as various colleagues throw anecdotes and half-remembered tales at me masquerading as evidence, then sit back, fold their arms and say, "explain that then." Once I offer an explanation, speak about the placebo effect, and point out that, on the basis of testable evidence, these therapies simply don't stand up to the claims made about them, some of my colleagues then become rather defensive and utter the immortal line, "well, if it doesn't hurt anyone, what's the harm?"

Well, if you have a moment, please do read the article above and I think it will illustrate perfectly what the harm is. If you don't have time, then allow me to present a quote from it.

The child's parents knew she "was suffering eczema on her face, arms, legs and torso at four months - but they failed to follow the advice of doctors who referred her to a dermatologist.

The court heard that by the time Gloria was six months old, the eczema had begun weeping and her clothing and nappies would stick to her skin and tear it whenever her parents changed her.

Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC said the baby girl's skin began to peel off, allowing infections to enter her bloodstream."

What in the name of Christ is going on in the head of someone who lets that happen to their child? Obviously, I feel enormous sympathy towards that little girl who lost her life, but I also can't help feeling sorry for the parents who, due to their blind faith in an unproven therapy, ended up killing their child. They'll have to live with that terrible decision for the rest of their lives.

That is why sham treatments such as homeopathy are harmful, because they can encourage people to bypass conventional medicine. I urge you to visit this site, www.whatstheharm.net to read about other, similar cases.

Now, many people have written at length about homeopathic solutions, how they're prepared and what the ingredients are, so I won't go into detail. Instead, I'll point you in the direction of this article from the website www.ukskeptics.org.uk which sets out the fundamental concept.

The wonderfully nonsensical part about homeopathy is that once the solution has been prepared to the common 30C dilution, there is not a single atom of the original active ingredient left in the water. Ah, say the homeopaths, that doesn't matter because water has a memory. Well you know what? Recent evidence shows that they're actually right, water does have a memory. Sadly, however, that memory is fifty millionths of a nanosecond, so doesn't back up their bizarre claims one iota.

Interestingly, after I'd tweeted about the original article, I received a tweet in return from a sadly misguided woman who said, "@Rablenkov could direct your anger to some horrific figures re seroxat being unleshed on the public... and more re allopathic negligence. Empiricism in medicine is wrong ."

I responded with, "Yes, I could, but I'd rather rail against the utter disgrace that is homeopathy. Give me evidence over superstition any day", wondering whether she would attempt to engage me in a conversation. So far, she has remained silent.

She did, however, send the following tweets to other people over the course of the evening:

"homeopathy = disintergration of empiricism in pharmacology. You only need research the appendix to auswich and follow the heads and rebranding of BASF to get a taste of how big the drugs industry is. Good luck in old age if you ever end up on combo prescriptions. I know of no medical research testing cocktails of drugs.... Yet much of public mix RX's"

"Seeing a lot of antagonist comments re homeopathy. Do they quantify and rant as passionately about morbidity rates due to allopathy?"

"Homeopathy when applied is a science and art with exceptional results."

To be honest, when someone mentions homeopathy and Nazis in the same breath, and then dips their toe in the ocean of Big Pharma conspiracy theories, I think they're probably someone that I would have little chance of entering into a meaningful dialogue with.

I hope for the sake of her and her loved ones that, should she become seriously ill, she abandons complementary medicine and goes to see her doctor. If not, she may well end up as another cautionary tale floating around on the Internet.


I received a couple of nice comments on my Most Haunted rant yesterday, including one from someone I used to go to school with who now owns a beauty salon and teaching school. Therapies available include Reflexology, Reiki and Hopi Ear Candling. I shall bite my tongue and remain uncharacteristically silent. :o)

One of the comments directed me to this wonderful clip of Most Haunted with the now exposed Derek Acorah in full flow. It's absolutely hilarious and I thank whoever brought it to my attention.


Shelley said...

Ha Ha I have just seen your comment, are you remaining silent because of your homeopathy rant?? I would like to say though that any therapist who is trained in complementary therapies is made fully aware during their training that what we do is not in place of any medical attention and it not down to a therapist to diagnose. I fully support the need to refer a client to a doctor when the need arises. Although I am not trained in homeopathy I am trained and practise alot of other therapies which I believe can help with ailments and conditions, but I would always ensure my clients receive the proper attention, and if this means a medical consultation I would prefer to refuse treatment incase it has a detrimental effect to my clients health. I like to think that all all other therapists have a similiar approach, but in some cases I have come across financial gain can have a greater importance.

Dan said...

Thanks for that comment, Shelley.

I appreciate you presenting the other end of the spectrum.

Some therapists really do see what they do as being something that can be undertaken in addition to regular treatment. The problems start when unethical individuals suggest that conventional medicine be avoided in preference for their own, unproven therapies.

On the one hand, some people die because of their belief in complementary therapies. On the other hand, some find it a useful method to alleviate certain symptoms. Personally, I suspect that's due to 1) the placebo effect, and 2) the sheer relaxation from laying down for half an hour with soothing music and someone manipulating you. I mean that in the massage sense, of course.

Whether that effect will last for any length of time is another question entirely.

However, once people start talking about chi and energy paths, that's where I become rather more sceptical.

Oh, and I can't resist mentioning it:
Hopi ear candling? Stop it at once! :o)


kendra said...

how come every time that ian does any show he get's took over??? what a load of shit

Anonymous said...

in the US, allopathic (western) medical treatment--proper treatment--is the third largest cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. This as reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, nonetheless. What makes me sad is that nobody brings these failures out one-by-one for public examination, just the cases where *other* forms of treatment fail. It's massively hypocritical.

Dan said...

Thank you for your comment, 'anonymous'.

I'd be absolutely delighted to see a weblink that supports the claim you've made.

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