Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Save us from cant and quackery

Once again, the redoubtable Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard tells it like it is when he takes on the Ontario Homeopathy Act, which comes into force on April 1st. The Act, which purports to regulate homeopathy practitioners in Ontario, has the effect of validating the practice of homeopathy, putting it on a level with other medical practices, even though there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that homeopathy is anything other than cant and quackery.
Homeopathy is based on the 18th century belief that "like cures like", that diluting a medication somehow mysteriously makes it stronger, and that water molecules retain some kind of "memory" of a previously dissolved substance. There is no scientific basis for such beliefs, and the latest large-scale investigation, by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, concludes unequivocally that: "There is no condition for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective... People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness."
It doesn't get much blunter than that. At best, homeopathy can be considered equivalent to a placebo; at worst, it can be downright injurious.
And yet the Ontario government is going ahead and legitimizing the practice by regulating it, presumably on the basis that to leave it unregulated is an even worse position. In the same way, Health Canada has licensed various homeopathic products on the grounds that, being almost 100% water, they are not actually unsafe, and these products are widely available in high street pharmacies throughout Canada.
But such validation gives the impression that they are also effective, which is demonstrably not the case, and, by failing to mention that part, the province (and the country) is allowing people to spend their hard-earned money on placebos instead of proven scientific treatments. An example of this is the use of unproven homeopathic nosodes instead of vaccinations during the recent measles scare, which has been the subject of a previous rant of mine.
Sometimes people need saving from themselves, and I believe that not speaking out against homeopathy is out-and-out unethical.

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