12 October 2009

An anonymous comment

A while back, I wrote a blog post about the entirely avoidable death of an infant because her parents chose to use homeopathy instead of proper medical treatment.

A comment arrived today from 'Anonymous' (sad that this person decided to hide behind anonymity rather than reveal their name) which said the following:

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.
The term that immediately caused alarm bells to ring was 'allopathic'. This is a term invented by Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathy, to describe conventional medicine. This causes me to surmise that the person leaving the comment is an avid supporter of homeopathy, otherwise they wouldn't use such a term.

The second thing that struck me, was the claim itself that medical treatment in the US is the third largest cause of death. Something about it didn't ring entirely true and I was disinclined to believe it.

However, as a sceptic, I never form an opinion on something until I've had an opportunity to examine the evidence. This, sadly, is a trait that you will not find in many homeopaths.

I researched the quoted article and guess what? 'Anonymous' was absolutely right.

It rocked me back on my heels a little bit, to tell you the truth. But such is the nature of scepticism and rationality - when you find out you're wrong about something, you look into it, learn from it and incorporate it.

In 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study by Dr. Barbara Starfield in which she discussed the state of the American health-care system and made comparisons to other countries, namely Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Without doubt, the most sobering conclusion the report offers is that after heart disease and cancer, the third largest cause of death in America is iatrogenic damage. Or, in other words, ill-health or adverse effects resulting from medical treatment.

That is an absolutely astounding and tragic finding.

So what could possibly cause this? How has conventional medicine failed us so badly?

The answer is that it hasn't, no matter what 'Anonymous' may want us to think.

For one thing, the criticism in the article was focused entirely on the American health-care system. It did not focus on worldwide health-care, it did not focus on conventional medical techniques, it looked solely at how medicine is operating in the U.S. Let's briefly look at that now.

In the U.S. their health-care system is largely for-profit in nature. Corporations, Health Maintenance Organisations and pharmaceutical companies exist to make a profit. Indeed, they are legally required to maximise their profits for shareholders. What is the best way to achieve this?

Well, you increase sales and reduce costs. It's as simple as that.

In the American health-care system, you reduce costs by providing lower quality service. At the same time, you increase your sales by selling more drugs and performing more expensive, and potentially unnecessary, technical treatments. These increase your income vastly.

The problem in America is not the huge amount of medical knowledge being drawn upon, or the incredibly effective treatments available, it's the fact that companies are administering all of this with the sole intent of making as much money as possible. If the shareholders are happy, everyone's happy - except for the patients.

In the U.S. it's not necessarily about what is best for the patient, it's about what's best for the profit margins.

So you see, what 'Anonymous' has sought to do is present an article criticising the American health-care system in a light that will make it seem that conventional medicine is 'broken'. At the same time, they claim that homeopathy is being unfairly singled out for criticism.

Frankly, that's a disingenuous and very weak argument. Let's call a straw man a straw man.

Conventional medicine works. The problem is, sometimes, in the administration of it. That means the issue is not with the medicine, but with the companies running the system.

Homeopathy was singled out in my blog post for one reason and one reason only - it does not work as advertised.

Homeopathy is no better in clinical trials than placebo. There is no magic in your water. There is no memory of the active ingredient that has been diluted into extinction. Your
bottle of liquid or handful of pills contains nothing of value whatsoever.

To try and compare homeopathy with conventional medicine is like comparing apples with oranges - one works and one doesn't.


Gurf said...

Nice entry, like the way through some research you uncovered the real issue. Also found a little lesson in there myself. Stick it to the homeopathic man!

Dan said...

Thanks for the comment, Gurf. Much appreciated.

Very hastily written blog post, sadly. Not up to my usual standard of well-crafted anti-everything ranting. :o)

Piley said...

man, you's banging out some posts this month eh??! Interesting, and thought provoking too. Mind you, when I were a kid, the doc cured me of something or other by giving a bleedin sugar cube to suck... rip off merchant, I fell for it hook line and sinker too. Just as well i wasn't paying for me prescriptions in those days. Just goes ta show, ya can't trust nobody!


Dan said...

I do appear to be rather prolific at the moment. Give it a week or two and I'll go into hiding again having run out of things to whinge about.

I can only assume you were given a magic sugarcube infused with the goodness of pixies. That makes about as much scientific sense as homeopathy, so I'm going with it. :o)