MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Since homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann about 200 years ago, a steadily growing group of critics have raised their voices more and more loudly. Usually they come from doctors or scientists and only rarely from the legal profession.

Yet, there are exceptions: an Australian barrister and professor of law has published an analysis of “a series of criminal, civil, disciplinary and coronial decisions from difference countries in relation to homeopathic medicine where outcomes have been tragic”. He concludes that “there is an urgent need for reflection and response within the health sector generally, consumer protection authorities, and legal policy-makers about the steps that should be taken to provide community protection from dangerous homeopathic practice”.

He also questions whether homeopathy can ever be registered alongside other health care professionals:

“Until such time as homoeopathy can scientifically justify its fundamental tenets,… it cannot be said that its claims for therapeutic efficacy can be justifiable. This leaves the profession not just exposed to criticisms,… but potentially open to consumer protection actions directed toward whether its representations are false, misleading and deceptive, to civil litigation when its promises have not been fulfilled, and especially when persons have died, and to criminal actions in respect of the financial advantage that is obtained by its practitioners from their representations.

The distressing cases referred to here which led to avoidable deaths and the multiple accusations leveled against homoeopathy require of the profession at least a formal repudiation of the practitioners concerned… In addition, they demand an unequivocal response that homoeopathy will discipline its own in a robust and open way. If the profession is to acquire any scientific credibility, which is difficult to conceive of, the deaths to which homoeopathy has contributed…also require that homoeopathy actively generate a defensible research basis that justifies its claims to efficacy of outcome for its patients. It is only then that the claims of the medical establishment that homoeopathy is a dangerous and too often a lethal form of quackery will be able to be contested rationally. In the meantime, it is timely to consider further the status that homoeopathy has within the general and health care communities and whether that status can be scientifically, ethically or legally justified”.

I believe this legal view to be highly significant. The persistent criticism from skeptics, concerned scientists and doctors has rarely been translated into decisions about health care provision. Homeopaths tended to respond to our criticism by producing anecdotes, unconvincing or cherry-picked data or by producing outright lies, for instance in relation to the “Swiss government’s report” on homeopathy.

In this context, it is worth noting that, in some countries, homeopaths who have no medical qualifications have been accused to practice medicine without a licence. The case of Dana Ullman in the US is probably the most spectecular such incident; this is how one pro-homeopathy site describes it:

Dana is perhaps the person who has done the most for homeopathy since his court case in that he pursues the evangelism of homeopathy through the NCH and his mail order company… He prescribed homeopathic medicine and was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. But he won an important settlement in 1977 in the Oakland Municipal Court in which the court allowed his practice under two stipulations:

  1. that he did not diagnose or treat disease and that he refers to medical doctors for the diagnosis and treatment of disease;
  2. that he makes contracts with his patients that clearly define his role as a non-medical homeopathic practitioner and the patient’s role in seeking his care.

But such cases are not the only occasions for lawyers to look at homeopathy. Recently there has been a class action against the Boiron, the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic preparations. It was alleged that Boiron made bogus claims for one of its remedies, and there was a settlement worth millions of dollars. Similar cases  are likely to follow, e.g.:

  • Nelsons Homeopathy (Rescue Remedy, Bach Original Flower Remedies, Pure & Clear, Arnileve, H+Care)
  • CVS Homeopathic Products (Flu Relief, Cold Relief, Cold Remedy, Ear Pain Relief)
  • Nature’s Innovation (Naturasil Skin Tags, Bed Bug Patrol, Naturasil Scabies)
  • Boericke & Tafel Cold/Flu
  • Homeolab USA (Kids Relief Cough & Cold)

In June 2003, a British High Court Judge ordered two mothers to ensure that their daughters are appropriately vaccinated. The ruling concerned two separate cases brought by fathers who wanted their daughters immunized despite opposition by the girls’ unwed mothers

The fact that, in the UK and other countries, homeopathic placebos are still being sold as “vaccines” for the prevention of serious, life-threatening infections is, in my view nothing short of a scandal. The fact that a leading figure at Ainsworth actively misleads the public about these products is an outrage. It is high time therefore that the legal profession looks seriously at the full range of issues related to homeopathy with a view of stopping the dangerous nonsense.

17 Responses to Time for the legal profession to have a serious look at homeopathy?

  • It certainly is time, past time, that strong legal activity be applied against those who knowingly engage in preposterous medical activities.

    Most of those activities are likely harmless enough in their own right, but to the extent that they delay useful medical interventions or impart false ideas of immunization are dangerous and the providers are at least unethical if not criminal. A perfect example is that of homeopathic malaria vaccines. The UK charity Sense About Science was instrumental in bringing suit against providers of useless “vaccines” against diseases such as malaria, polio, and dengue fever. Sadly, the case was dropped and pharmacists and others are left free to dispense bogus remedies. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12153074

  • I have now linked the inside-out broadcast [last link last para]. it clearly shows that the issue of homeopathic vaccines is dead serious.

  • Tony Pinkus made an interesting statement in the video about Ainsworths. He said:

    “As we progressively dilute and shake, we improve the effectiveness of the remedy….”

    Have any clinical trials been carried out to test this hypothesis? Such a study would be quite easy to do, as it would simply
    be a dose-ranging study in reverse. You would need several dose level groups, in this case dilution groups, and you would measure the effect sizes observed in each group. The study would need to be randomised and blinded, neither of which is insurmountable. Patients could be randomised to treatment groups, and the remedy dispensed by a third party pharmacist. I realise that an objection will be that treatments must be individualised, but Ainsworths sells mainly off the shelf standardised remedies for which there can be no individualisation, so we must assume that Pinkus is applying his claim to those remedies. However, I don’t see why the particular remedy could not be selected by individualisation, and then the dilution determined by randomisation.

    I have presented this question to the Society of Homeopaths. No reply so far.

  • @Les Rose
    Ah, well, I can think of several issues the Society of Homeopaths may have with your questionnaire.
    First of all, most homeopathic remedies are anything but “individualized” but are standardized products. I could imagine they may have a bit of a problem admitting that.
    Second, they never seem very eager to engage in randomised and double blinded studies – always claiming that their “medication” is, well, “individualised” and thus by its very nature not fit to be tested in anything remotely resembling serious and objective clinical trials. And since they can’t have it both ways they avoid that topic as much as they can.
    Some have even gone so far as to claim that some mysterious quantum mechanic mechanism was responsible for the fact that in all serious tests placebos do as well as the remedies themselves. The “information” imprinted into the molecules of the remedies (i.e. water or sugar) somehow transfers itself into the placebo as soon as the trial is set up, even if they are stored in different rooms. This, in their eyes, turns placebos into homeopathic drugs and in turn leads to the placebo yielding the same results as the drug… This I have read somewhere and only recently. Admittedly I do not have the source ready. Should it come up again some time soon I’ll post it here. At any rate, it is so bizarre, it is way beyond anything my mind could have come up with.

    • I am not seriously expecting a logical reply, if any at all. It is really impossible to have any kind of rational discussion with people who make up the evidence as they go along. Your latest example shows the extreme power of the imagination. An impossible thing that has to be believed before breakfast every day?

  • I wish Pinkus would justify his statement here; if not, we will have to assume that the leading figure of Aninsworth openly talks tosh. Mr Pinkus, over to you!

  • I can’t view the full text of the articles you cite but I’m familiar with the arguments. I understand why you pose the question but you do conflate a number of issues that really should be treated separately and almost certainly on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. I don’t know very much about jurisdictions other than the UK and I’m not a lawyer but …

    Homeopathy as practiced by non-medically qualified homeopaths could be regulated by statute if the political will existed. Osteopathy and chiropractic already are so efficacy of the treatment is not a bar to regulation in itself. However, it is worth remembering that UK homeopathy totally failed to create a single register of homeopaths (CORH) which would have been a first step on the way to SR.

    But SR is not completely effective in the UK because of the much vaunted “common law” right that allows anyone to practice “medicine” as long as they do not claim a protected title without the qualification/registration. “Homeopath” would become a protected title but anyone would still be able to call themselves a “vibrational medicine practitioner”. In the case of homeopathy, there would possible be an associated right to prescribe unlicensed homeopathic medicines but as the restrictions on the prescribing and supply of unlicensed homeopathic medicines are ignored by homeopaths, the homeopathic pharmacies and the MHRA it is questionable whether this would serve any purpose. It would also ride roughshod over the principles involved in the control of unlicensed medicines.

    A UK version of Heilpraktiker, anyone?

  • These legal actions are nothing novel: 1) NCAFH (James Randi Quackwatch +), 2) Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, 3) Samuele Riva, 4) Boiron in Canada. And the recent financial support Cfi against damage of homeopathy.

    -Year 2010: 10:23 Campaign and its slogan’s, “no cure, no nothing” “just water and sugar”

    -Alo 2012: Edzard Ernst published an article on the damage of homeopathic remedies.

    Anyone see the contradiction? Clearly James Randi requires legal action, as it did against experimental parapsychology. Thus it is no surprise that there Edzard echoed damage of homeopathic remedies in 2012, although it supported the movement 10:23 (they say that homeopathy can cause damage that is “just water”).

    I still maintain that the so-called new skepticism (skepticism “scientific”) is a political, not scientific.

    Accusing Ullman that there is medical: Edzard accuse involves intrusion also not received a homeopath?

    It is also evident that the awards as the Million Dollar Challenge Onde and ECSO Award (Skepp and GWUP) seeking sensationalism and money to the universities. Skepticism “scientist” is a clear example of lobbyist supports lobby’sin ideologies example: such as Sense About Science.

    • you should really communicate in a form and language that one can understand.

    • Magufo

      You really are utterly incomprehensible. It is therefore impossible to comment.

    • No contradiction: high potencies contain nothing (sorry I’m wrong: sometimes heavy metal impurities or glass shards), low dilutions can be dangerous because there are toxic but useless compounds inside. Contradiction comes from homeopaths because they claim homeopathy is safe, but it isn’t and worst it’s totally ineffective like every other esoteric ritual

      • Anyone can simply prove to themselves that high potencies of homeopathic remedies have active ingredients unique to the particular remedy. All one has to do to demonstrate it to themselves, is go to any homeopathic practitioner or store, request them to succuss SULFUR CM, take ONE DROP, and see what happens to you. CM is one of the highest homeopathic potencies – 100 to the power of 100,000. Surely nothing more than distilled water, right ?
        But be warned. If you have some serious deep-seated disease which has yet to manifest, like cancer or a clogged coronary left anterior descending artery, it might well surface into full-blown cancer, or you might end up with a first and last heart attack.

        Look up ‘homeopathic drug provings’ aka ‘homeopathic pathogenetic trials’ to learn more about this topic. Jeremy Sherr’s book entitled “The Dynamics and Methodology of Homeopathic Provings”, provides the most authoritative method for doing such provings. This is the way a homeopathic ‘drug picture’ for a remedy is obtained, so that the remedy could subsequently be used to treat conditions having the same symptom picture & the drug picture of the remedy…. likes cure likes.

        Homeopathic remedies are most certainly not inert… you need to do some research & experimentation.

        • Very well said Jon.

          The problem with law and science is that they both epitomise ‘black-white’ or ‘right-wrong’ thinking at its absolute worst and people with these thinking patterns are so close minded in life that they fail to accept that humans successfully evolved for 400,000 years without science and suddenly, in this generation’s lifetime, the religion that is science has brought the world of humanity to the point of collapse.

          Anyone who believes in science as the answer to everything really needs to open up their eyes and neural connections.

          “Science” ‘proved’ that environmentalists were wrong and that CFC’s were not damaging the atmosphere…. then the ‘science’ changed and oops – actually those damned bunny huggers were right all along, but the delay it took for science to catch up with reality resulted in a dramatic worsening of the position to the point where it will not be recoverable within my lifetime.

          Science again ‘proved’ there was no link between climate change and fossil fuel burnings, indeed science initially said there was no climate change…. and then the science changed and activists from the 70’s were once again proved right – but the delay it took for science to catch up with reality resulted in a dramatic worsening of the position to the point where it will not be recoverable within our lifetimes.

          Science based nutritional advice resulted in the loss of our traditional dairy industry as cholesterol and butter in particular were considered the risk factors in the diet…and guess what ? That was wrong as well but the delay it took for science to catch up with reality resulted in a dramatic worsening of the position for individuals to the point where the dairy industry collapsed and farmers I know lost their lives because of it. Anyone using Flora or similar spreads really ought to think, who stood to gain from switching people to eating a chemically altered highly manufactured product instead of plain butter? And what on earth makes you think it’s good for you? Oh yes, science….

          Stephen Hawking bet that science could not discover the Higg’s Boson particle. But once again, the science changed.

          Science even proved the safety of pesticides applied to food crops and people’s whole lives have been lost all around the world because of this – it is absolutely criminal how “do goody” lawyers fail to engage with the real enemies in the world like Monsanto who knew all along about the toxicity of their glyphosate – even the WHO now say’s its probably carcinogenic and guess what, the “Monsanto Bill” in America means they can’t be sued for the harm done to people by their products. International Trade agreements which the politicians are rushing to impose across the world will lower the standard of protection for the public even further. And what are you all doing about that?

          “Science” says that homeopathic concentrations can not have an effect. So does do the repeated rants of the author of this article. Well dear lawyers of the world and bigots united, please explain why even the US EPA recommended ‘safe’ concentration of arsenic in drinking water (which is 0.01 parts per million) has an adverse impact on the blood lipids in sensitive mice and is resulting in proposals to reduce the concentration of arsenic in drinking water even lower than that already homeopathic dilution? According to the blinkered thinking about homeopathy, this level of arsenic in water shouldn’t be a problem – yet it is.

          The science based approach has resulted the majority of people blindly believing that prescribed drugs will work for them and are safe. In fact over 90% of drugs work on only 30-50% of people taking them, ie they don’t work on up to 70% of people prescribed them but everyone risks side effects . (source: Glaxo’s Dr Allen Roses in 2003). It’s resulted in governments around the world wasting £Billions on Tamiflu. Indeed even people NOT takling these damned drugs are adversely affected by them as they contaminate the drinking water in the world following excretion. Since our science based approach to life became the dogma of this society, our species has become the sickest on the planet within the life time of one generation. Why don’t you lawyers focus on these areas which causes greatest harm to the majority of people rather than focussing on the areas which adversely impact only a very few people?

          Only those stupid enough to believe that humans have discovered all there is to know about the world and all the science there is to discover would always demand a ‘science based’ approach to all medicine. Science is only as good as the parameters set for it and the knowledge of the scientists concerned as well as the funding driving it. All are imperfect.

          We are animals; we have instincts. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. That results in something called evolution. What ‘science’ is doing is robbing us of our natural selection processes and heaven help us if the world ends up full of people with the dogmatic ideals and evangelical belief in science that is shown on this page. Just what does it take to happen in the world for you all to wake up and see what is happenign all around us?

  • Maybe we all will see the day when you reach, siege and raze “Jerusalem”.

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