Alternative medicine- a piss take   1 comment

I despair when people chose alternative treatments over conventional ones.  As Tim Minchin rightly pointed out  alternative medicine that’s been proved to work is called “medicine”.

My wife was diagnosed cancer a few years ago.  This was after a life threatening but unrelated episode that left her in a high dependency unit for a couple of weeks.  She was referred to the Professor who was world renowned for his speciality in what was a rare field of oncology.  He over saw the surgery and follow up treatment that has effectively “cured” her of what was a not particularly aggressive form of cancer.

Despite going through a particularly nasty illness and then two years of treatment for cancer my wife was lucky!  Firstly her cancer was spotted at a stage where it was treatable; ironically as a result of the tests on her original illness. Secondly she was able to call on a high level of expertise and support within the National Health Service.  Thirdly, and this wasn’t really luck, she put her trust in that expertise and didn’t rely on alternatives suggested by those outside of the conventional fields of medicine.

I will say my parents’ church regularly prayed for my wife.  My wife hoped this made them feel better as it had no effect  on her or her condition.  Despite some evidence that suggests that those  who know they are being prayed for fare slightly worse than a control group I feel that the theists might be the least of any problems.  It is the well-meaning but vacuous individuals who see magic potions and incantations as a real alternative to centuries of science that are a threat.  These can be backed by dishonest people who see wealth or fame from championing snake-oil.

There is significant evidence that Steve Jobs delayed recognised treatment for his cancer to undergo alternative medicine; some suggest this prevented a possible cure and shortened his life.  That case far away from the religious who abuse children by relying on prayer over medical interventions with close to 100% success rates but in my mind both are part of the same fraud.

Of course there are cases that no modern medicine can expect to cure, where all that matters is the quality of life and of death.  Any condition has an outside chance of remission just because we don’t know everything about diseases and have to recognise that the human body is sometimes a mysterious thing.  There were at one time tens of thousands of people in the UK receiving a benefit for six-month terminal illness where payments had gone on for more than five years!

Most reprehensible are those who seek out those with little or no chance of any effective treatment and use false hope to sell quackery at a huge price.  My wife’s consultant has a whole host of papers to his name and works and lectures in teaching hospitals throughout the world.  I have no doubt he makes a reasonable living through his medical and academic work but that is based on years of expertise and peer-reviewed works.  Through the NHS our access to him and the two surgeons who operated is free.

I understand there are charlatans who have the odd, poor paper to their name who chase patients with their bogus potions while taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from those who are suffering.  Real doctors have proof of their abilities and actually help scientific understanding to move forward.  Those demanding money to take the piss and inject it back into swindled patients are not part of science and should be regarded as frauds.

Cancer treatment is not usually nice.  It often involves cutting up sufferers, burning them with radiation and filling them full of poison.  As bad as this is there is a long established and recognised method to the unpleasant but hopefully effective treatment.  We all hope there is a miracle cure out there for at least some cancers but it will come from teaching hospitals not Texan snake-oil salesmen!

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One response to “Alternative medicine- a piss take

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  1. Spot on. My sentiments exactly.

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