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.
More cases for “What’s The Harm?” this week. Here in Arizona two people died and several are in critical condition after being injured (the exact cause is still under investigation) in a sweat lodge during a “spiritual warrior” retreat.
Yes, I noticed that one too. I especially liked the comment from a historian of Native Amercian rituals- “When you imitate someone’s tradition and you don’t know what you are doing, there’s a danger of doing something very wrong.”
It illustrates that the adoption of folk medicine traditions out of a misplaced mythologizing of unfamiliar cultures is not a benign practice, and yet that is a fair description of most TCM, Ayurvedic, and other folk medicine practices in the U.S. and Europe.
“When you imitate someone’s tradition and you don’t know what you are doing, there’s a danger of doing something very wrong.” – so true, and applies to random gobbets taken from texts in languages the reader does not first hand knowledge of, or the where he/she does not have the wit to go to real textual authorities…….
The whole native american spiritualism thing that is so prominent in Sedona gets ridiculous in a hurry. We have everything from new-age gurus making things up to genuine native americans selling tours and experiences to visitors and “seekers”. The problem is that it soon becomes impossible to tell who is “genuine” and who is not. Removing traditions from their cultural and societal contexts cheapens them and in the end can make them meaningless. On the other hand, some of these practices come from prescientific cultures and may be dangerous to begin with, and are sometimes unsustainable when combined with modern population density and technology. The use of animals and parts of animals in both chinese traditional medicine and native american rituals are good examples.