Alternative medicine ‘a dangerous scam’

Alternative medicine 'a dangerous scam'
The field of complementary and alternative medicine is misguided at best and may even be dangerous, agues Joel Jansson.

In response to the article, Swedish alternative medicine sector in danger of fragmentation, I would argue that it is not without good reason that the sale of snake oil to children and the dying is illegal, since there is a serious risk of exploitation.

We can take as an example the case of homeopathy, which lacks any substance and to all intents and purposes offers nothing more than placebo effects at best.

Why should it be permissible to sell entirely ineffectual homeopathic concoctions to people who are ill and in need of proper medical treatment? How can it not be viewed as a scam?

I am sick and tired of arguments that say: “It’s accepted in most of the rest of Europe so there must be something to it.”

On the contrary, the fact that is accepted in places like Germany and the UK is largely down to politics rather than any proof of its efficacy.

Is it morally acceptable for parents to treat their children using methods that don’t work simply on the basis of anecdotal evidence? For a parent to treat a child for a deadly illness using homeopathy is essentially no different to resorting to prayer.

When discussing the importance of using only scientifically tested medicines, we can take as an example the use of mistletoe therapy as a treatment for cancer.

As Sweden’s TV4 revealed on its investigative TV show Kalla Fakta (‘Cold Facts’), 100 million kronor of taxpayers’ money has been used to fund the anthroposophic clinic in Järna outside Stockholm. Vidarkliniken markets the supposed ‘anti-tumour’ qualities of a mistletoe-based substance.

But a number of doctors interviewed on the show were deeply critical of the clinic.

“Targeting a weak group in society – people who out of desperation are prepared to try almost anything – and lying right to their faces: I just think it’s wrong,” said senior physician Gunnar Eckerdahl from Västra Götaland.

The doctors at Vidarkliniken meanwhile continue to argue that their treatment works.

“It has been shown to have an immediate effect on tumours. What we can see is that tumours become smaller and can disappear completely,” said Jackie Swarz, a doctor at the clinic.

But a study carried out by the chairman of ECCO (European CanCer Organisation) has shown that mistletoe therapy can lead to serious side effects and may in fact cause tumours to spread.

“It has been proved that it does not have any positive effects. In fact it appears to speed up the illness, causing patients to die more quickly.”

Isn’t it bothersome that the Swedish healthcare system demands real evidence that medication sold to sick and desperate patients actually works and is not an ineffectual or even dangerous alternative?

Joel Jansson is a molecular biology student and a member of Vetenskap och Folkbildning (VoF), “a Swedish non-profit organization set out to promote popular education about the methods of science and its results. By engaging in open debate, the organization particularly sets its task to discredit false ideas about matters that can be resolved scientifically.”

The views expressed in the article are entirely those of the author.