A brief word on homeopathy

I’m generally completely non-plussed about petitions and marches and all that freedom of speech type gubbins that angry people get involved with all too easily. I think you should pick your battles and save up your bile and wit for when it really counts. But there’s something about the 1023 campaign that really strikes a chord with me. There were government reviews in 2009 as to whether the NHS should continue to fund homoeopathy, so I think this could be the year we see it finally get cut and I’m happy to help tip the balance by picking a side.

If you haven’t already stumbled across the many manic rants about homeopathy, and why it’s such a ludicrous load of rubbish, then here’s a selection of posts I could recommend (Update: Here’s an excellent one from New Scientist today that covers everything up to now). The videos on the 1023 site alone are good and will help explain things quickly and often hilariously.

This weekend, 1023 has organised an active protest aimed at Boots. Around the country objectors to homeopathy will be necking a whole packet of homoeopathic pillules (sugar pills) to show that there’s no actual active ingredients in them, since they won’t be keeling over (I shall be amongst them). Homoeopaths are making defensive statements already to suggest that it won’t do anything (they know as well as we do that they won’t have any affect), because without a trained homoeopath prescribing the correct pills for the correct illness, it won’t work (something to do with it being like the likelihood of having an allergy, or you have to have the right illness for the right pill for the magic to work… I don’t quite get it). In my mind, that weakens their argument even more, since Boots sell non-prescribed pillules without advice to anyone – so they shouldn’t work for those non-protesting people either.

I love the NHS. It’s one of the main reasons I’m walking around now having a generally jolly good time of it. I think as a nation we’re proud of it and what it provides for us, but as with most things, it’s under-funded. Something like four million pounds a year goes into funding homeopathy treatments and hospitals. If you take a look at the research on homeopathy, it’s just an elaborate placebo effect, and it seems a lot of homeopathists don’t even deny this, and say that it’s the act of caring and talking and the long appointments people get to have that help make them feel better – so I’m all for scrapping the lunacy and putting that money into therapies and councillors. Should have a similar sort of result, no?

Anyway – all that aside, and all the obvious nonsense and I’m still left with my biggest issue with the topic. If you want to take a “them” and “us” approach to the argument, my problem is with some of the people on “our” side. You’ll see comments on articles and posts all the time that go something along the lines of “Who cares? It’s charlatans selling pills to fools“. Sounds fair, right? I don’t agree. Charlatans: yes, generally. Fools: I don’t think so. I think consumers and patients are well within their rights to follow recommendation.

Take Boots for example. Although clearly a commercial entity first, they still have a role in our world as a trusted pharmacy with a brand we recognise. Is it so wrong that people should trust a pharmacy to sell pills that have some efficiacy? Could you honestly say that you understand how the paracetamol or aspirin you take works? What it’s chemical structure is? How it’s produced? What it does to your body? You take them regardless, because you trust that those tablets have been tested to be safe, work and reliable. We’re not expected to be experts on medicine. We don’t have to be, because we rely on trained professionals to direct us. When the NHS provides money to a practice that is unproven, who are we as consumers of the NHS to question what appears on the surface to be a funding-based seal of a approval? Call people fools if you like once they’ve been shown and had to confront the science, but you can’t label general man-on-the-street consumers as those people.

Someone asked me once if it meant we should be up in arms over anti-aging face creams with false claims for all the same reasons and my response to that is I’ll start caring if they falsely claim to cure your illnesses too. Buying a cream and still having a few wrinkles isn’t likely to be fatal, but not taking the prescribed and proven medication, in place of a few sugar pills when you’re seriously ill, just might be.

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