I’ve discussed previously why it is both understandable that desperately ill people turn to unproven or bogus therapies and why it is immoral to take advantage of this desperation and sell them such therapies. It is comforting, then, to find that even in today’s CAM-friendly climate that selling lies and false hope to sick people is still illegal, at least sometimes. This case involves a doctor who allegedly made $1.1 million dollars over three years selling a mysterious concoction of unknown provenance and claiming it would treat cancer, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. According to the Associated Press article, the doctor also instructed at least some of her patients to discontinue conventional therapy.
It is interesting, and a little disappointing, that the prosecution is focused on wire and mail fraud charges, since the law still is unable to deal directly with medical lying. Apparently, a California Medical Board investigation is underway, but I suspect the outcome will hinge more on the results of the criminal prosecution than the scientific facts about the treatment the doctor charged provided. After all, California licenses and promotes the legitimacy of acupuncture, chiropractic, and other questionable therapies.
Still, such cases serve to illustrate the reality behind the PR rhetoric of some CAM promoters. CAM providers, on balance, are likely honest believers in the therapies they sell. But their claims to the contrary notwithstanding, their ranks contain the recklessly negligent and the outright dishonest, so the stones they cast at scientific medicine’s faults are ill-advised coming from within their own glass house. And rather than providing comfort or real help to the truly ill, unproven therapies offer only the illusion of help while often taking away the potential benefits of real medical treatment.