Homeopathy kills too

Hard on the heels of the recent media coverage (well done Channel 7!) of the death of a child from Whooping Cough due to antivaccination sentiments in Australia, comes the death of an infant due to homeopathy.

The father is a homeopathy quack, and instead of treating his child's eczema with traditional creams, he allowed his daughter to get a major skin infection, lose weight due to malnourishment, and eventually die. The good news, if it can be called that, is that the parents are on trial for manslaughter by gross criminal negligence. I would hope this foreshadows all homeopaths, naturopaths and CAMM-woomeisters being charged for negligence when their victims patients die.

I apologise for prejudging Sunday Night's coverage of the antivaxxers.

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Sadly, a good many proponents of alternative therapies are rather good at casting themselves as the victims of Big Pharma and their evil government minions. I can guarantee you right now that legions of loyal naturopathic quacks are, even as we speak, spinning this as an attempt to silence them.

Here in Canada, believe it or not, some of this crap is actually funded by public health plans (translation: the taxpayer). My own Member of Parliament is a proponent of chelation therapy as a heart treatment and a number of other bits of quackery. It shouldn't surprise anyone that he's a chiropractor, and waves his title "Dr." around with great vigor.

Anti-science sentiment isn't just limited to Creationism, and you get the same kind of con-men, swindling the true believers. Much worse, of course, is your example, a man who actually is sufficiently deluded to believe his own garbage.

By Aaron Clausen (not verified) on 05 May 2009 #permalink

This is what happens when people forget the realities of the diseases we are able to control with EVIDENCE BASED MEDICINE. They get complacent, focus on some alleged (rare) side-affects and thus act on their own ignorance, seeking out a way to give their children what they believe to be a less risk associated alternative. This then allows the potential for not only their own kids to become ill (ie. whooping cough), but for the disease to then persist in a community and infect other children. 40% of infants infected with whooping cough die. That statistic alone should warrant immunisation.

At the risk of boring everyone by agreeing wholeheartedly, I simply must say in response to the above two comments: hear, hear!
I worked in an alternative school where homeopathy dominated and vaccinations (apart from homeopathic vacc) were looked upon as a poison- not by al parents but a fair number, certainly.
Homeopathy in itself, if somebody wants to try it for a cold-(not that it'll do anything, I dont think)- is benign enough. BUT it has tentacles, that is the real issue. It fosters a way of seeing the world, of seeing other people which is quite primitive and actually quite arrogant and rigid. For example, "you have pneumonia? you *must* be *grieving* because grief is expressed through the lungs".How can you address that without looking like an arch conservative? It's so tribal and primitive and black and white. These days, having been up close and personal,if I hear of parents who regard homeopathic remedies as the *mainstay* of their medicine cabinets, (rather than something they might try if absolutely all else fails and it's a non- life threatening condition and their doctor is monitoring it), I run a mile because they are pretty nuts.

By abigail dunleavy (not verified) on 05 May 2009 #permalink

If was only the parents, we could all chuckle when they received their Darwin Awards?

Killing off your children qualifies. However, what counts is doing it in a noteworthy way -- most people who remove themselves from the gene pool by proxy aren't very creative about it.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 May 2009 #permalink

I think case studies have to be put in perspective by statistics. Iatrogenic problems (those caused by medical mistakes and interventions, as well as known side effects of drugs, allergies, diagnostic procedures and so on) are common in conventional practices, as well as alternative ones. We have to look at overall numbers and compare ratios, rather than singling out individual cases. As scary as it sounds, kids die from conventional treatments all the time, as well, and many drug warnings mention death among possible side effects.

All estimates, even conservative government estimates, put iatrogenic deaths in the US in tens of thousands a year, some studies showing over a hundred thousands. The numbers are similar for all developed countries. All medical practices, conventional or alternative, come with a price, from individual doctor mistakes to known side effects and economic factors such as surgeries being profitable to clinics.

What it means is that the current state of medical science is far from perfect, but hopefully, is getting better with time. Doctors do what they know to do, which is imperfect and is guaranteed to cause death and injury to some patients. We can only hope to improve statistics with time, and scandals around individual cases may overshadow the statistics and interfere with scientific methods of decision making.

I don't think anyone can debate the fact that doctors can screw up, or that even tried and true therapies can, on occasion, do harm. The human body is an incredibly complex system, and when you toss in individual variation, evolving pathogens and so forth.

The chief difference between homeopathy and medical science is that medical science, like all sciences, has rigorous means to self-correct, and that involves tracking over large groups, either during testing of therapies, or even after the therapies are approved. I know of no systematic approach to homeopathy, there's no meaningful rigor, no overarching methodology by which one can say "This treatment did not work." And if that wasn't bad enough, homeopathy seems to be part folk superstitions, part pseudo-scientific quackery.

Modern medicine will never achieve absolute perfection, but at least it can remain rational and evidence-based, requiring that claims that any therapy can a) treat the illness in question and b) not harm lots of people at the same time.

By Aaron Clausen (not verified) on 05 May 2009 #permalink

I am sure (not a scientific term) that I owe my survival to "modern" medicine. Wildly guessing others here can make the same claim.

By Susan Silberstein (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink

I am sure (not a scientific term) that I owe my survival to "modern" medicine. Wildly guessing others here can make the same claim.

Out of my wife and our two sons, only the younger son has never had something that would be lethal in pre-modern (specifically, pre-antibiotic) times. (Me: ruptured appendix at age 39; Wife: any number of childhood infections; #1 Son: Periorbital cellulitis at age 18mo.)

Finland's public television channel TV1 blundered debat about alternative therapies vs medicine on 16th April 2009.
In debat a customer of homeopathy was introduced as mother who continuously gets help for her babies and her pregnancies from homeopathy.
However some days later we net-activists established that she had her own enterprise that sells homeopathy products and some natural therapies !
Later TV-channel admitted theirs bad mistake in their website but for 628 000 viewers this was never told in tv-channel (it is weekly series). Few peeks websites of programs (too many to browse). I made Youtube video of this scandal but only 1472 viewers this far..

Negligence is negligence regardless of profession. To indict the homeopathic and other CAM modalities as dangerous based on the gross, inexcusable negligence of a couple of individuals is not good science. Need I remind everyone of the thousands of deaths caused each year by the negligence in the allopathic healthcare system. How many of these negligent practitioners are prosecuted?

"Need I remind everyone of the thousands of deaths caused each year by the negligence in the allopathic healthcare system. How many of these negligent practitioners are prosecuted?"

So what? If something doesn't work, it doesn't work. It does not matter if something else doesn't work, either sometimes or every time. Homeopathy cures nothing, is misleading and dangerous on its own, regardless of whether or not any other attempt or method to alleviate disease succeeds.

By Susan Silberstein (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink

It's even worst than some some of the reports let on if you believe the prosecutor.

"Mr Tedeschi said that Sam was treating his daughter with homeopathic drops to no avail. Whenever the couple did follow the advice of a conventional doctor for a few days after a consultation, Gloria's condition improved."

He evidently also chose to ignore a doctors advice and take the child travelling to India during her last 3 months of life.

Even if homeopathy weren't quackery this guy is an ass.

And Clarke, when it is clear neglicence how do you know the allpathic practitioners aren't punished. You spout one statistic that's floating around the web with no idea of its context or what it means. The number of people saved from death by heart disease alone far exceeds those who die from preventable errors.

And if allopathic medicine were held to the same standard? An estimated 100,000 deaths each year from allopathic treatment in the US. Let's put the issue in perspective.

There is no such thing as "allopathic" medicine, there is only medicine. Sure it isn't perfect and there are cases of iatrogenic death (caused by medical intervention) but that's because it's a human activity and not perfect. "homeopathic" medicine does nothing, however, and doing nothing when something is called for kills in many cases, and that is a problem with the very notion of homeopathic medicine.

Due to medicine, people live longer, survive diseases that used to kill, have healthier lives (when they follow the advice) and most of all, we are learning to improve these rates. Homeopathy kills. Medicine makes lives better, on the whole.

One other thing that is true of medicine and not of homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, "natural remedies" like exposure to diseases such as the antivaxxers promote, and so on, is that medicine can learn from experience and change.

The medical system is broken increasingly in the west - especially in the United States - but the fundamental rules of medicine: wash your hands, don't crap where you eat, get vaccinated, avoid unhealthy foods; these things save millions of lives every year. Nothing else does.