Earlier this month, the Ontario government took a shot at real medicine when it became the first province in Canada to regulate homeopathy. What the government should have done, if it had any real concern about our collective health or our health care system, is ban it.
Instead, although it at first seemed an April Fool’s joke, on April 1 the Wynne government announced legislation that will do nothing but legitimize and help spread this dangerous pseudoscience.
Clearly this was a political move, since it is not motivated by scientific, medical or health-related concerns (nor, apparently information informed by actual science or medicine). But it’s playing to the gullible and the deluded fringe.
No amount of regulation will make homeopathy any more credible, or make it work. It is sheer and unadulterated bunk, and creating a ‘college’ for it makes as much sense as creating one for psychics or astrologers. Which I suspect will come hot on the heels of this move.
Worse, homeopaths will be self-regulating, like doctors and nurses. Talk about the inmates running the asylum. No actual medical or scientific oversight will be in place to dampen their already outrageous and potentially dangerous claims for their quackery. No common sense – let alone science or medicine – will interfere with their preparation of magic water.
Writing in Forbes Magazine, David Kroll commented,
One could be forgiven for thinking that homeopathic drugs are an April Fools’ joke.
Ontario’s announcement was a gala day for homeopaths, having their efforts to spread their pseudo-medical balderdash aided and abetted – and ultimately legitimized – by this government.
Doctors and nurses can be held liable for their treatment. Will people now be able to sue homeopaths for ‘treatment’ that proved ineffectual?
I suspect that caveat emptor will play into that: I hope the courts would rule that if you take magic remedies instead of medicine, you deserve what you get. But if you take a sugar pill, even though knowing it is a sugar pill with no medical value, instead of a vaccination or a prescribed medicine, and you get sick, or die – isn’t the government also responsible for helping legitimize this quackery? I’d sue the government, too.
Andre Picard wrote a piece in the Globe & Mail, titled, We’re aiding and abetting homeopathic quackery, in which he asks some tough questions (emphasis added):
…Ontario has allowed homeopaths to draw up standards of practice and self-regulate like every other health profession – physicians, nurses, pharmacists, chiropractors, naturopaths, etc. – because that will at least allow the public to seek recourse if people are wronged or harmed when purchasing the products and services of a homeopath.
The problem is that these actions of government lend a veneer of legitimacy to homeopathy. If products are approved by Health Canada and the people “prescribing” them are regulated by the province, the public can be forgiven for thinking homeopaths are as legitimate as physicians who prescribe prescription drugs. That amounts to aiding and abetting fraud.
Exacerbating this problem is that most pharmacies sell homeopathic products. This is no doubt profitable, but is it ethical?
Should pharmacists – who are inarguably legitimate health-care professionals – be selling quack products that have no medicinal value alongside over-the-counter drugs such as Aspirin and on a similar footing to prescription drugs?
Homeopathy is not evidence-based. It should be marginalized, not embraced. There is no excuse for pandering to the deluded by diluting our ethics, standards and public policies.
Tabatha Southey followed up that piece in the G&M with her own cynical take on homeopathy and the government’s move:
Good, good – now see if you believe me when I tell you that soon we in Ontario will be able to visit a licensed palmistry technician. These will be people judged qualified by a board of their beshawled peers to stare at your hand for a bit and then predict that you will or will not meet a tall, dark stranger.
You can see it happening, can’t you? Either that’s the effect of the magic memory water that should go on Jeopardy!, or you recognize that this is where the slippery, wet slope of licensed homeopathy logically takes us.
The Ontario government is legitimizing the health-care equivalent of dowsing rods.
Does it hurt, does it do harm?
In an op-ed piece on Digital Journal, Alyssa Sellors writes,
For any of these modern forms of homeopathic approaches, or any of the hundreds of other forms of it, there is little strong, medical evidence of its effectiveness, but can it hurt? Probably not. And when it comes to the question if it’s a form of quackery, whether you would agree or disagree, many would argue that whether you agree with it or not, regulation can lead to increased safety, even if it does increase its legitimacy.
The answer is: yes, it does harm. If someone suffering from an actual medical condition or illness takes magic pills instead of medicine, they will not be cured. In fact, they might spread the disease to others. They might imagine themselves cured of illnesses like cancer, which instead of being stopped by proper treatment, continue to grow in their bodies. They could die.
Not to mention that homeopathy is a delusion, which means believers may be suffering from a psychological illness that cannot be alleviated by ingesting more magic pills.
People who resort to homeopathic pseudo-remedies may also self-diagnose and choose a magical homeopathic option instead of getting a proper medical diagnosis. Since homeopaths are not trained as doctors, their recommendations have the same validity as a kid who plays World of Tanks has in advising the US Army on its mechanized military tactics.
Homeopaths are, however, as qualified as anyone to advise people on invisible pink unicorns, fairies, and magic crystals.
In several studies done in the UK, homeopaths offered bad, potentially fatal advice to researchers examining homeopathic practices and real medical situations. For example:
Seven out of the ten homeopaths failed to ask about the patient’s medical background and also failed to offer any general advice about bite prevention. Worse still, ten out of ten homeopaths were willing to advise homeopathic protection against malaria instead of conventional treatment, which would have put our pretend traveller’s life at risk…
One case reported in the British Medical Journal described how a woman had relied on homeopathy during a trip to Togo in West Africa, which resulted in a serious bout of malaria. This meant she had to endure two months of intensive care for multiple organ system failure. In this case, the placebo effect offered no protection.
Imagine if ebola victims took magic pills instead of anti-viral and antibiotic drugs. Ebola already has a stunning lethality rate. Homeopathy would make it higher because if for nothing else, it requires homeopaths to come into contact with fluids from ebola victims. Yes, homeopaths claim to be able to cure ebola. Frightening, isn’t it?
April 1 was a bad day for Ontario’s medicine, science and health care system. The Ontario government should have taken the ethical path and banned homeopathy in the province. Collectively, we would all be healthier – and probably smarter – if they did so.