A while back I wrote about a naturopathic “physician” who was specifically preying on the Latino community. This is troubling for a number of reasons, some of which I mentioned. In my zeal to rant about the quackery, I may have not delved deeply enough into some of the other important issues.
For example, Hispanics have rates of diabetes and stroke well above the white Anglo population. These are conditions for which we have very effective science-based treatment. Proper treatment of high blood pressure in diabetics reduces the rate of heart attack and stroke by 35-50%. Proper foot care, which can be as simple as regular foot exams at the doctor, can prevent amputations by 45-85%. The list goes on—we know how to treat diabetes, and prevent the devastating micro- and macro-vascular complications.
Anything that stands in the way of proper treatment will naturally increase the rates of diabetes-related illnesses. Quacks that encourage “alternatives” to science-based medicine are dangerous no matter whom the prey on, but for American Latinos it is a double hit. By percentages, more Latinos will need diabetes care than Anglos, and they may have less access to proper care, either for cultural, economic, or linguistic reasons.
When I call out the quacks on their unethical behavior, I’ve had commenters come back with, “but your medicine gave us Tuskegee!” This is of course irrelevant. Unethical behavior is unethical behavior, no matter who perpetrates it. The Tuskegee experiment damaged the lives of hundreds of individuals, and damaged the relationship between the health care system and an entire ethnic group. But that doesn’t invalidate the science-based medicine which we strive to practice today.
When they target minority communities, practitioners of cult medicine such as chiropractic and naturopathy are perpetrating a dangerous form of racism. By hanging out a “se habla espanol” sign, they invite Latinos in for a chat, a hug, and a glass of horchata, and then very gently separate them from their money, leaving them no healthier than they were when they walked in. These quacks might believe they are doing good, but then, so did the teachers at the Native American relocation boarding schools. Good intentions do not mitigate the effects of a harmful, racist practice.