What’s the harm? Well, homeopathy could (indirectly) kill you.

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The letters Penelope Dingle sent to Francine Scrayen make for very sad reading. Scrayen was “treating” Dingle’s cancer, diagnosed in February 2003. Dingle’s sister is now suing Scrayen, and it’s easy to understand her motivations for this on reading not only the letters, but also the coroners report following Dingle’s death :

In my view the deceased’s rectal cancer was present and causing bleeding and other symptoms from at least 31 October 2001. During the period 31 October 2001 until at least the end of November 2002, the deceased regularly described the symptoms of her rectal cancer to a homeopath, Francine Scrayen. It was not until November 2002 that Mrs Scrayen and the deceased discussed the possibility of reporting her rectal bleeding to a medical practitioner and it was not until 5 December 2002 that she first reported those problems to a doctor.

I accept that Mrs Scrayen believed that the deceased had suffered from haemorrhoids years earlier and the bleeding and pain was “an old symptom coming back”, but a competent health professional would have been alarmed by the developing symptoms and would have strongly advised that appropriate medical investigations be conducted without delay.

As I’ve said before, pseudoscience doesn’t only cause the (relatively trivial) harm of lightening the wallets of the gullible. When it’s taken seriously, it can not only result in these sorts of tragic stories, but also helps to contribute to a general climate of unreason, where people become less discerning about what to believe and why to believe it. In fact, an increasing concern is the ways in which this climate of unreason can be leveraged in favour of political and economic interests. Conspiracies are attractive to many folk, because we sometimes prefer grand narratives to the conclusions reached via the application of Occam’s Razor (on this topic, Rosenberg’s new book The Atheists Guide to Reality makes for good reading).

Alternative medicine that works is simply called “medicine”, as Dara o’Briain reminds us here:

The Dingle story is now a few years old, but it’s back in the public eye thanks to the recent publication of the coroners report and Dan Buzzard’s highlighting of that report’s contents. And now, Scrayen has sent Buzzard a cease and desist letter, demanding that he retract his allegations regarding her complicity in Dingle’s suffering and her potentially avoidable death. You can read Buzzard’s two posts on Scrayen via that last link, and it’s difficult to see how Scrayen thinks he’s done anything wrong – except, of course, for exposing her as a dangerous quack.

It is ultimately the consumer’s fault if she makes choices which endanger her own life. The issue here, though, is that while Dingle (and most of us) live(d) in a society which protects us from all sorts of misrepresentation and fraud, that protection is absent in the case of things like homeopathy. The politically-correct, relativistic way in which opinions and evidence are treated make us afraid to tell people that what they believe is sometimes nonsense, and sometimes dangerous nonsense.

Medical aid schemes should of course not reimburse for homeopathic treatments. Pharmacies, who are associated with treatment and good health, should ideally not sell them, no matter how profitable exploiting the gullible can be. Pharmacies are of course free to sell anything legal, though – my point is more that it’s unfortunate that they often don’t take any proactive role in reminding consumers that what they’re buying is pure placebo, and shouldn’t take the place of medicine.

Most important, perhaps, is that in an age of manic labelling of everything consumable, down to the most minuscule ingredient, it’s an almost criminal neglect that legislation doesn’t exist to force producers of homeopathic remedies to spell out the simple fact that a glass of water will “treat” your ailment just as effectively as a homeopathic “remedy” will.

Also see Angela Meadon’s post on this, reminding Scrayen that she can’t bully Buzzard into silence, and that the Streisand effect might well result in her attempts to do so having the opposite effect to what she hopes.

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  • http://lizditz.typepad.com Liz Ditz

    As I often do, I am keeping a list of responses at Dan Buzzard Writes the Facts; Homeopath Francine Scrayen Threatens With the Law. I’ve added this post to the list.

  • Pingback: Francine Scrayen, the litigious liar « Short and Spiky

  • homeopathy

    Must i say it is indeed funny.
    what?
    this whole post, including the blame of the homeopath practitioner for her patient’s death.

    It is quite simple to blame the simple guard, guarding the entrance to a military base, while it is more difficult to understand why it happened from the first place? why should a person would choose to try alternative medicine instead of going to a real medical doctor?

    Have we ever asked ourselves these questions?
    well, i can basically tell you the answer in NO!
    Why not?
    because we like very much to do what we are told to do and not taking action or asking questions that may pull the mat off the floor. we would like to believe everything done by our Doctors is good and not the result of pressure from the drug companies…….

    I am not saying that Francine Scrayen is innocent, no, she is guilty!
    Guilty for her pride and her honor, Guilty for not telling her patient the risks (i don’t know all the facts, but i assume that if she thought or knew her patient has cancer and told her so, she might have been considering to go to a medical treatment- so says my logic!)

    Francine scrayen (the Homeopathic practitioner) could be blamed for the death of her patient unjustly, and the whole thing of taking a single case and spreading out so many bad words regarding Homeopathy is really stupid thing to do. Homeopathy is never wrong- since it based on the laws of nature! we are- the people are wrong, we are human, who makes sometimes mistakes, and pay for them.

    Thats all folks, it is really important to balance sometimes the picture and not only showing a one sided opinion.

    Avishay

  • Pingback: Francine Scrayen, the litigious liar » Short & Spiky

  • homeopathy

    Basicfacts shows that Medicine kills much more patient than the diseases themsekves.
    Do you get my point? people are dying due to wrong perscriptions, overdose of medications, suffer from side effects and much much more but….. hush…. don’t letanyone know the real facts OK?
    for the sake of Drug companies!
    A harsh point to think about before you start blaming homeopathy for the death of a person…….
    Only God could help us on this one :)

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