Regular readers night remember a few years back when I was involved in promoting a non-binding policy statement from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that would have acknowledged a simple and obvious principle: Vets should base their treatments on science and shouldn’t use ineffective, unscientific methods. Here is the text of that statement:
RESOLVED, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) affirms that—
1. Safety and efficacy of veterinary therapies should be determined by scientific investigation.
2. When sound and widely accepted scientific evidence demonstrates a given practice as ineffective or that it poses risks greater than its possible benefits, such ineffective or unsafe philosophies and therapies should be discarded.
3. In keeping with AVMA policy on Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, AVMA discourages the use of therapies identified as unsafe or ineffective, and encourages the use of the therapies based upon sound, accepted principles of science and veterinary medicine.
4. Homeopathy has been conclusively demonstrated to be ineffective.
This resolution was based on a policy already adopted by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and was consistent with the policies of other veterinary organizations, such as the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Similar positions have been taken by numerous scientific and government bodies around the world (e.g. UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and National Health Service, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, and others).
I wrote a white paper exhaustively detailing the evidence against homeopathy and demonstrated why the evidence presented in favor of the practice was not reliable. The AVMA’s own scientific body, the Council on Research, agreed there is no evidence to support the use of homeopathy. Nevertheless, the resolution was defeated by a 9:1 margin, illustrating the definitive preference for political expediency over science in AVMA policy.
Now, the status of the AVMA as an outlier for refusing to acknowledge the obvious truth that homeopathy is a worthless set of false beliefs and ineffective methods is further emphasized by a recent revision to the policy on complementary and alternative medicine byt the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the regulatory body for veterinarians in the UK. Similar to the AVA policy and the resolution rejected by the AVMA, the policy reads as follows:
We have recently been asked questions about complementary and alternative medicines and treatments in general and homeopathy in particular. We would like to highlight our commitment to promoting the advancement of veterinary medicine upon sound scientific principles and to re-iterate the fundamental obligation upon our members as practitioners within a science-based profession which is to make animal welfare their first consideration.
In fulfilling this obligation, we expect that treatments offered by veterinary surgeons are underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles. Veterinary surgeons should not make unproven claims about any treatments, including prophylactic treatments.
Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles. In order to protect animal welfare, we regard such treatments as being complementary rather than alternative to treatments for which there is a recognised evidence base or which are based in sound scientific principles. It is vital to protect the welfare of animals committed to the care of the veterinary profession and the public’s confidence in the profession that any treatments not underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles do not delay or replace those that do.
While there is some contortion of reasoning evident here to allow merely discouraging the replacement of real medicine with homeopathy, rather than actively opposing the use of homeopathy altogether, which is a concession to the political reality that some vets still employ it regardless of the lack of any reasonable basis for doing so, this is still a strong statement that veterinary medicine should be based in science and that homeopathy is not a scientifically legitimate practice. It is an important step forward in leaving behind faith-based folk medicine and emphasizing the importance of a science-based practice to the welfare of veterinary patients.
The growing chorus of organizations in medicine and government around the world rejecting homeopathy is in contrast to the depressing inability of organized veterinary medicine here in the U.S. to take such a simple, obviously correct stand in favor of what is ultimately best for our patients. We should be leading, and instead we are dragging our heels as the future of medicine, including veterinary medicine, continues moving towards scientific, evidence-based practices and away from the relics of pre-scientific folk medicine. Here in the US, one can argue that Chinese medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, and other unscientific approaches may even be gaining ground despite their consistent failure to prove their worth. This is an unfortunate state fo affairs for our profession and our patients.
I am happy that the RCVS council has taken this step towards protecting the welfare of veterinary patients and the rights of animal owners in the UK to truly informed consent. I can only hope that we in the US will eventually overcome our resistance to any constraints on the autonomy of individual veterinarians and recognize that similar policies will serve the veterinary profession and the welfare of our patients far better than the current refusal to stand up against the anti-scientific nonsense of veterinary homeopaths and other purveyors of unscientific treatments and folk medicine. We owe this to the animals in our care and to our clients.